By Hugh Bronstein
BUENOS AIRES, April 13 Argentina's corn crop has
been walloped by the drought that hit the Pampas grains belt at
the height of the Southern Hemisphere summer, the government
said in its weekly crop report on Friday.
The six weeks of dry weather that parched corn and soy
fields in December and early January have resulted in yield
losses of up to 40 percent in some areas, the report said.
Soy has a longer flowering period, which allowed it more
time to soak up moisture and avoid such extensive damage.
Grains exporting powerhouse Argentina is the world's No. 2
corn exporter after the United States and its No. 1 supplier of
soymeal, used as animal feed, and soyoil, used for cooking and
in the booming biofuels sector.
The farm sector is a key source of government revenue at a
time of increasing global economic headwinds. Not only growers
and soy traders but long-term investors are evaluating
Argentina's ability to help meet rising world food demand.
In key corn-growing area Bragado, Buenos Aires province,
early-planted fields are being harvested with yields coming in
at 2,000 to 5,000 kilos per hectare, the report said.
"As expected, the loss in corn yields is averaging about 40
percent compared with full potential yields," it added.
Nearly half of Bragado's 2011/12 corn has been collected at
an average yield of 4,500 kilo per hectare.
Some early-planted corn fields in Rio Cuarto, Cordoba
province, are so thin that farmers have decided not to harvest
them at all. The province's late-planted corn is developing
normally, "except in western Rio Cuarto, which was affected by
frost 10 days ago," the report said.
The Southern Hemisphere has entered the fall season. Farmers
who avoided having their corn plants parched by the
December-January drought by planting later than normal now hope
to collect their fields before they are damaged by any early
autumn cold spells.
About 5 percent of Argentina's tax revenue comes from grains
exports. The country needs all the revenue it can get as its
economy slows due to global sluggishness, lower demand from key
trade partner Brazil and higher energy prices, which are
weighing on domestic consumption.
Despite these challenges to investment in the farm sector,
the world is counting on Argentina to help meet demand for food,
which the United Nations expects to double as global population
grows to an estimated 9 billion by 2050.
In the Buenos Aires coastal zone of Bahia Blanca, soy fields
have gotten good rains, allowing crops to develop normally. The
area of Bolivar, also in Buenos Aires province, rains were so
heavy over the last week that collection was suspended as
harvesting machines got bogged down in the moist earth.
Buenos Aires is Argentina's key producing process.
On Thursday, the Buenos Aires Grains Exchange but its
2011/12 Argentine soy crop estimate to 44.0 million tonnes, down
from a previous estimate of 45.0 million. The exchange kept is
corn forecast steady at 20.8 million tonnes.
Grains exporters with operations in Argentina include
Cargill Inc, Bunge Ltd, Molinos Rio de la Plata
, Noble Group Ltd and Louis Dreyfus.
Early this month, the Rosario grains exchange cut its
2011/12 soy harvest forecast to 43.1 million tonnes from an
earlier 44.5 million, saying that the downgrade better reflected
the extent of drought damage.
Rosario analysts also shaved their 2011/12 corn crop
forecast to 19.7 million tonnes from 19.8 million.