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Is It Winter Wheat's Turn for Above-Average Yields?
Winter wheat farmers are getting their turn with El Niño, and it’s more likely than not to result in above-average yields across the Great Plains when the crop is harvested next spring. It would come on the heels of a record-setting U.S. soybean yield and the second-highest corn yield on record this fall, also influenced by the weather pattern forecast to peak in the Northern Hemisphere this winter.
Caused by warmer-than-normal water in the central and eastern Pacific Ocean, the current El Niño pattern “could rank among the top three strongest episodes” since 1950 and persist into late spring, says the National Weather Service.
El Niño patterns usually bring wet winters from the Gulf Coast of Texas to Southern California, with improved chances of winter precipitation as far north as Nebraska, while the eastern Corn Belt may turn drier. Milder-than-usual winter weather would stretch across the northern tier of states, but the southern Plains could be colder than average.
Ag economist Dave Widmar says there have been 20 El Niño events since 1951, and for the country overall, they did not result in above-average winter wheat yields any more frequently than normal weather. Across the Plains states, the probability of higher-than-average yields during El Niño conditions was high – 65% or greater.
“This is especially true in Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas,” says Widmar. The three states grow a third of the winter wheat crop.
If El Niño helped U.S. crops by bringing generally cooler summer weather, it is disrupting production in other parts of the world.
Crop failures in palm-oil producer Indonesia are blamed on poor rainfall during El Niño. Hot and dry weather early in the growing season has damaged the wheat crop in Australia.
“Prolonged dry weather associated with the El Niño phenomenon has severely reduced this year’s cereal outputs in El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua,” says a news release from the UN Food and Agriculture Organization.
USDA has estimated the U.S. corn yield at 169.5 bushels an acre and soybeans at 48.3 bushels an acre. It will finalize its estimates on January 12. The corn yield was 3% higher and soybeans 8% higher than the trend-line yields calculated last winter by the University of Illinois.
“El Niño is strongly correlated with positive results for both crops,” said an AgriBank analysis in July.
According to the National Weather Service, El Niño, which developed last spring, is expected to fade during early 2016 to neutral ocean conditions. It could be followed by cooler-than-usual water temperatures, creating a La Niña pattern, with its own impact on global weather. El Niño and La Niña occur every two to seven years, on average. A strong El Niño, like the current one, could delay the onset of La Niña.
If a dry spell is coming, it will probably start after El Niño, states an Iowa State University report. Poor yields are more likely to occur the year after an El Niño.
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