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El Nino Presents a Mixed Bag For World Agriculture

21 May 2014

ANALYSIS – While the prospect of an El Nino generally means moisture for the US Corn Belt, it could spell disaster for Australians in much need of rainfall.

Just as US growers conclude a hectic planting season, Australians have been issued a cautionary drought warning, illustrating the varied weather an El Nino brings to different regions.

The likelihood of an El Nino reached 70 per cent this week, according to the Bureau of Meteorology’s latest reckoning.

On Monday, a weather warning was sent confirming an ‘alert’ status with a transition to El Nino coming as early as July.

For Australia's farmers, this means long term feed budgeting and planning could be vital, especially in Queensland and New South Wales, where drought has persisted for months.

“Farmers need to be aware that the chances of El Nino occurring are rising,” said Dairy Australia’s issues management manager, Julie Iommi.

“From the current forecast it is likely farmers may again face drier than average winter and spring conditions across southern and central regions of the country.”

A favourable summer lies in wait for Minessota growers, according to Mark Seeley
Photo Courtesy of Minessota State University

She added that alternative feeds should be explored as insurance and for farmers to be prepared for how operations may be hit longer term.

But the weather outlook is a complex picture, with much of Western Australia - barring the far north and east - to get above average rainfall.

Mrs Iommi added that extreme storms, flash floods and cyclones were also a possibility.


Much of the US is expected to receive average rainfall for the summer with Wyoming and adjacent states side-lined for a wetter than average June, July and August period.

Average rainfall is predicted for the Corn Belt, although cooler than normal temperatures are on the cards, particularly for the northern Lake Michigan and Wisconsin area.

This is the outlook from the Climate Prediction Centre at the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration which is predicting hot weather for the current drought-hit states of Texas and California.

However, average rainfall is expected for these areas.

For Minnesota Climatologist Mark Seeley, all signals are for a reasonable crop year.

From his standpoint at the west of the Corn Belt, most climate models are in agreement that Minnesota should receive average summer temperatures to help late plantings along.

In his outlook for the state, Mr Seeley said: “We may start the summer period a little wetter than average but the weather should turn back to normal or even drier for the latter half of the summer.”


News of El Nino reached many farmers and ranchers in the US at the Cattlefax presentation at this year’s National Cattlemen’s Beef Association Conference in Nashville back in March.

Weather analyst for Cattlefax, Dr Art Douglas of Creighton University said that NOAA and the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts predicted an El Nino by mid-summer.

Outlining what this means elsewhere, Dr Douglas said: ”With a developing El Nino, expect drier weather for the next six months in Brazil, Australia and India.

“Argentina should see slow improvement in moisture conditions as the region approaches winter.”

New Zealand usually feels a limited effect of an El Nino compared with Australia, although should be prepared for feed and water shortages, UK dairy organisation DairyCo has advised.

The levy board stressed that El Nino patterns bring complex weather and the overall effect will depend on the 'timing and severity' of the weather system.

DairyCo said: "In the US, El Nino could mean increased rainfall over the southern states and California, which have suffered from drought over the last 3 years. However, given that the peak of El Nino conditions typically occurs at the turn of the year, any increase to rainfall would occur during autumn and winter 2014/15 with a potential benefit to crops harvested in 2015."

DairyCo added: "El Nino conditions can also benefit some areas, including the potential for greater rainfall in parts of South America, which may support soybean production and add downward pressure to feed prices."

Michael Priestley

Michael Priestley
News Team - Editor

Mainly production and market stories on ruminants sector. Works closely with sustainability consultants at FAI Farms


Top image via Shutterstock

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