El Nino to boost 2010 U.S. crops: report

CHICAGO Thu Jan 28, 2010 6:03pm EST

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CHICAGO (Reuters) - U.S. farmers grew record-large corn and soy crops in 2009 but production in 2010 could be even bigger, aided by an El Nino weather pattern that is typically a boon to the Midwest but less so for growers in Australia and southeast Asia, a forecaster said on Thursday.

Allen Motew, meteorologist at QT Weather, forecast a dry U.S. spring, which should minimize problems at planting time, followed by a favorably wet summer growing season.

"It's exactly what we need to increase (crop) yields," Motew said at the Top Producer Seminar, a farmers' conference held in Chicago.

Temperatures in the U.S. Corn Belt are expected to be mostly below normal this summer, while precipitation will be above normal.

"We have a double-whammy here -- colder and wetter," Motew said. "The odds say we are going to have quite a good year."

Motew said corn yields typically increase when an El Nino weather pattern persists for two years in a row. The same is likely true for soybeans, he said.

In two of the most recent such years, 1992 and 1998, corn yields increased by 21.1 and 6.1 percent, respectively, Motew said.

He said that yields increased during the last 16 of 22 seasons of El Nino weather.

The average U.S. corn yield in 2009 reached a record 165.2 bushels per acre, resulting in a record-large crop of 13.2 billion bushels. The average U.S. soybean yield was also the highest on record, at 44.0 bushels per acre, and production topped 3.3 billion bushels.

El Nino, the abnormal warming of waters in the equatorial Pacific, was observed in May 2009 and the existing pattern may run until at least June 2010, the National Weather Service said a week ago.

While El Nino may be beneficial for farmers in the Midwest, the weather pattern can cause erratic and harsh weather elsewhere in the world.

Motew said El Nino could cause drought conditions during the latter months of 2009, stressing the palm oil crop in Malaysia and the wheat crop in Australia.

El Nino has already contributed to bizarre weather in the United States, including flooding and tornadoes in California and heavy snows in Oklahoma.

Temperatures have also been above normal in the typically frigid northern U.S. Plains, while areas in Chicago and southward have seen below-normal temperatures.

The pattern should bode well for U.S. corn and soybean farmers, however. More than 600 farmers were in attendance at the three-day seminar.

(Reporting by Michael Hirtzer; Editing by Marguerita Choy)

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