El Nino rains could complicate harvests for Brazilian farmers

SAO PAULO (Reuters) - Brazilian grain farmers are expected to face wetter conditions from the lingering effects of El Nino as the bumper harvests of summer soybeans and corn unfold in the first half of 2016, weather forecasters said on Thursday.

Brazil’s sugar cane and coffee belt, which only start harvest in the second quarter will benefit if a final burst of moisture helps crops fill out in late stages of crop development. But if heavier than usual rains persist after April they will complicate harvest for the crops.

The country is entering the peak harvest and export period for soy, corn, sugar and coffee in the coming several months, when rains affect operations.

The global El Nino weather phenomenon associated with warmer-than-average Pacific surface temperatures off Peru tends to mean wetter conditions in southern Brazil, home to about 40 percent of the country’s 200-million-plus-tonne grain crop.

Nearly 200 townships in Brazil’s southern states of Rio Grande do Sul Santa Catarina, Parana and Mato Grosso do Sul have declared states of emergency due to flooding from recent rains.

“Our models see the influence of El Nino through May in southern Brazil, though it is already starting to weaken by then,” said Joel Widenor, meteorologist at the U.S. Commodity Weather Group.

Meteorologists say that global weather patterns are expected to enter a transitional period later in 2016 on their way to a La Nina, or cooler than average Pacific surface temperatures, which tends to mean slightly drier conditions for southern Brazil.

Meteorologist Graziella Goncalves at local forecaster Somar said El Nino tends to have less defined influence beyond the south of Brazil, where other factors such as Amazon moisture levels and the Jet Stream play a greater role in rainfall.

El Nino is often associated with irregular or later-than-normal rains in Brazil’s Cerrado, including the main center-west grain belt. Brazil’s Mato Grosso, the leading grain state there, is currently getting heavy rainfall even as some fields are ready to harvest.

Farmers say the late rains complicate harvest in some areas with soybeans sprouting in their pods rather than drying out for harvest. Transport companies in the southern parts of the center-west grain belt are also scrambling to recover from heavy rains in recent weeks that washed out several roads and bridges.

“We expect rains to resume in February across the center-south” farm belt, Goncalves said.

Reporting by Reese Ewing; Editing by Sandra Maler