Brazilian Farmers Face Dry Planting Weather

Planters have been parked across Mato Grosso, waiting for rain

Wait a minute. Isn't this supposed to be an El Nino year? Brazilian producers mostly like the occasional El Nino because the effect is plenty of rain, and a generally longer rainy season that helps guarantee the success of the second-crop corn to be planted in February. But the planters have been parked lately across Mato Grosso and the rest of Brazil.

Up in Mato Grosso—Brazil's biggest soy producer—current-year planting progress has been put at just over 20% of a projected 21.7 million acres so far. In the northerly parts of the state, where producers are traditionally among the first to plant short-cycle beans early, 2013-14 planting progress is up to 38 points behind last year's pace.

Remember last year, when there was no El Nino? The state's bean producers were nearly 51% planted by the same week of 2013.

Observers there say the lateness can hurt because it'll take the top off of yields, and because it should make for fewer acres of second-crop corn, as many producers may not be able to get that second crop in the ground early enough to produce a reasonable crop before the rains come to an abrupt halt next May.

The state's Agricultural Economics Institute says the costs of those two factors together could come to anywhere from $1.6 billion to $2 billion.

Meanwhile, in the western reaches of Paraná—the most intense soybean-growing area of Brazil's number-two soy state—farmers are wrestling with the question of whether the new reality of lower prices will still cover cropping costs. Does this sound familiar?

However, for the Brazilians there's good news - The dollar has been getting stronger as bean prices have fallen. But where will the dollar, and hence the prices farmers get for their soybeans, be at harvest time?

"Our planting is late due to the dryness," Mato Grosso farmer Naildo Lopes told me. "In my area, not even 25% of the projected area has been planted so far, and, even then, stands are lower. The coming second-crop corn crop is already being likely to be reduced by up to 40%.

"I've been here in Mato Grosso for more than 20 years, and I've never witnessed a situation like the one we're in now," he adds.

Such is Brazil's El Nino: not enough, not on time. Producers like Lopes are just glad they've had three good years leading into this season.

The opinions of James Thompson are not necessarily those of Farm Futures or the Penton Farm Progress Group.

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