In an Argentina field, green shoots mask scars of drought

VEINTICINCO DE MAYO, Argentina (Reuters) - In grain fields around the small Argentine farm belt town of Veinticinco de Mayo, Dario Sabini checks corn plants, soybeans and soil water levels, gauging crop conditions after a long drought finally ended this month with the arrival of rain.

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Green shoots cover scars from the dry weather, suggesting that the worst may be over for farmers in the world’s top exporter of processed soy and the second largest for corn. Both saw harvest forecasts cut sharply before wetter weather arrived mid-month.

“Since mid-December we had been in free fall due to extremely high temperatures and scarce rainfall. Now what has been achieved since ... has put a brake on that. That fall has been halted,” Sabini told Reuters.

“Now we will see how the crops evolve and how the whole summer period continues,” he said.

A fortnight of recent rains has seen some key agricultural areas in the farm belt region of Buenos Aires province drenched, while other zones have received less, creating a mixed picture for farmers, who saw early planted corn hit hardest by the dry weather.

“Really the losses are in the order of 60% for corn for example and well, depending on the new rains, we will see how the rest of the crops do,” added Sabini as he inspected crops beneath a blue sky dotted with fleeting white clouds.

Argentina is in the midst of a second straight La Nina climate pattern, which generally causes lower rainfall in central farming regions, though weather experts said its impact appeared to be weakening as the southern summer progresses.

“In February it is expected that the La Nina phenomenon will continue to dissipate,” said Leonardo De Benedictis, an independent meteorologist focused on the agricultural sector. “For next month we see a better distribution of rainfall, without it all being packed into a fortnight like this month.”

Argentina relies heavily on farm exports for foreign currency. It is currently locked in talks with the International Monetary Fund to revamp more than $40 billion of debts it cannot pay and needs to bolster reserves and reduce its fiscal deficit.

Cristian Russo, head agronomist of the Rosario grains exchange that had sharply cut its forecasts for 2021/22 corn and soy harvests, said the drought had already struck a significant blow, though rains had limited the losses.

“Production levels we are talking about in the campaign now are regular. It was a big blow to production. Things aren’t good, but disaster was avoided,” he said.

Reporting by Agustin Marcarian and Maximilian Heath; Writing by Adam Jourdan; Editing by Mark Porter