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Rainfall extremes stoke S.A. crop worries

It's been a season of moisture extremes in South America. Much of Argentina has been downright waterlogged this fall, and that's disrupted planting and left farmers with mounting frustrations in a year where a lot rides on a big crop.

Meanwhile, it's the opposite end of the spectrum further north. Parts of Brazil, including some key soybean-growing regions of Mato Grosso and Mato Grosso do Sul, are still woefully lacking in moisture, leaving farmers facing a crop that's starting to germinate in far-from-optimal conditions.

"Brazil has 2 very distinct areas -- too much rain in the south and in the north, where they're only now getting rain," says Chacobuco, Argentina, farmer Mauricio Torres. "In Argentina, the situation is complicated by heavy rains. There is talk of a lot of acres that were planted too late.

"In Brazil's Matto Grosso region, it has not rained enough. In particular, the southern part of the state recorded rainfall of only 45 mm, 66% below the norm for October," he adds.


A snapshot of some of the flooding near Mauricio Torres' Chacobuco, Argentina, farm. Flooding has washed out many acres that likely won't be replanted, he says (photo courtesy Mauricio Torres).

But in the last few days, conditions have at least started to improve.

"Too much rain has been a big problem so far during this planting season in South America for much of Argentina and far southern Brazil, but we have started to improve that situation in recent days and more improvement will be seen in most of that area into at least the early part of next week," Freese-Notis Weather, Inc., senior ag meteorologist Craig Solberg said on Monday. "The past three days have been mostly dry though in Argentina, and that started a time frame in which significant/widespread rains are not forecast until about late next Wednesday (a number of spots in the northern growing region will end up with about 8 straight days with no rain, while southern areas may see sporadic very light rains for tonight into Tuesday)."

Looking ahead, Kyle Tapley sees this shift toward better conditions continuing at least through the next week. The MDA EarthSat Weather senior meteorologist says the driest parts of Brazil will see the greatest boost in crop conditions, but farmers in the southern part of the nation and Argentina will also see a beneficial rainfall reversal.

"Widespread rainfall amounts of 1 to 4 inches are expected across northern Brazil over the next five days. The rains across northern Brazil, particularly in northeastern Brazil, will significantly improve conditions for the corn and soybean crops," Tapley says. "Little rainfall is expected in southern Brazil over the next 10 days, which should favor the wheat harvest and ease any minor areas of wetness."

It's enough to stir up optimism among some farmers, while others like Torres remain worried the bad start is too tall an obstacle for the crop to climb and return to yields closer to trend.

"Fields no longer able to plant this season will not produce, but others will, just not the same yields," he says of the fields planted much later than normal, common in his area on account of the rains that have flooded some areas.

The moisture extremes' most profound effects have been on the landscape itself, but there's growing speculation that they could start to inject more influence into the grain trade in the U.S. And, since the issues are happening earlier in the year unlike last year's drought in Brazil, the implications could have much longer legs into 2013, says Marketing Talk contributor ECIN, especially in a time when there's already a fairly tight supply pipeline for corn and soybeans.

"This is not a problem yet for replanting, as they have plenty of time. And, they could still have an outstanding yield," he says. "But, here is the problem for them: It pushes back the time for replanting the second crop, corn. Looks like the focus may be on only one crop and pass on the second one."

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