La Nina-linked dryness seen likely to hurt Argentine wheat yields

BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) - A mild La Nina weather event is likely to hit Argentina in the final stretch of its wheat growing season, meteorologists said, extending a dry spell that has affected planting.

A big part of Argentina’s wheat belt is already dryer than usual, with about 87% of the country’s 2020/21 crop having been planted so far and harvesting expected to start in December.

La Nina, as a weather phenomenon, is characterized by unusually cold ocean temperatures in the equatorial Pacific Ocean. The dryness it brings to Argentina can put upward pressure on world food prices because the country is a major wheat, corn and soybean exporter.

“We are going to end up with a La Nina that causes difficulties for many farmers,” independent meteorologist Leonardo De Benedictis said. “The concern is centered in areas that rely on Southern Hemisphere spring rains in September.”

Dryness in Argentina’s western grains belt has already cut into wheat planting. The Rosario grains exchange last week reduced its 2020/21 wheat harvest estimate to 18-19 million tonnes from a previous 21-22 million tonne forecast.

The Buenos Aires Grains Exchange has also warned it may cut its 6.5 million hectare wheat planting estimate due to dryness.

The farm province of Cordoba, western Santa Fe and northwest Buenos Aires province have been unusually dry since June.

“These areas are going to need more moisture than the atmosphere will be able to give,” said German Heinzenknecht, meteorologist at the Applied Climatology Consultancy.

According to the U.S. Climate Prediction Center and Columbia University, there is a 54% chance that a mild La Nina will hit Argentina between September and December, just as wheat crops are in their yield-setting stages and soy and corn gets planted.

A chance of 70% or above would indicate a strong La Nina.

Reporting by Maximilian Heath; Writing by Hugh Bronstein; Editing by Tom Brown