QUERENCIA, Brazil (DTN) -- If there is one thing you can normally count on in tropical eastern Mato Grosso, it's summer rain.
But not this El Nino-skewed season.
Rains have been very inconsistent across this growing edge of the Brazilian soybean belt for this crop and many farmers have seen soy suffer amid a dry November and December, which has been followed up in many regions by another dry spell of two to three weeks in February.
"The last time things got this bad was back in 1998 (another El-Nino) year," said Andre Bonmann, vice president for the east of the Mato Grosso Soybean and Corn Growers Association (Aprosoja).
That's not to say the soybean crop is a disaster. Heavy January rains came at a crucial time for the region, while scattered showers in December and February provided sufficient sustenance for many crops.
Indeed, traveling through eastern Mato Grosso with the Rally da Safra crop tour last week, DTN saw drought-battered crops interspersed with magnificent-looking pod-heavy plots.
"We are seeing everything this year. Early yields range from 25 bags (22 bushels per acre) to 70 bags (62 bpa)," said Carlos Alberto Petter, who plants 2,750 acres in Nova Xavantina, eastern Mato Grosso, during a Rally da Safra event in the same town.
Mato Grosso is normally the powerhouse of Brazilian soybean production, dragging up average yields, but this year it will have the opposite effect.
Agroconsult, the local farm consultancy that organizes the Rally da Safra, forecasts Brazil will produce 101.6 million metric tons (mmt) of soybeans this season, up 4.5% on the year before.
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However, the poor state of the crops witnessed across the Araguaia Valley in eastern Mato Grosso last week and the poor yields in the big-producing center-north of the state, will likely lead to a downward revision in the forecast, Fabio Meneghin, Agroconsult partner, said during the trip.
A PROBLEMATIC YEAR
Planting soybeans early is important to Brazilian farmers as most squeeze in a second crop of corn before the dry Cerrado winter sets in.
As a result, many planted when the first rains arrived in October. Unfortunately, those rains were followed by a dry period that extended for many through till December.
"We saw the early beans bake in the dry weather. There was aborted flowering," said Marcio Caetano Rosa, who plants 8,000 acres in Agua Boa, eastern Mato Grosso.
The January rains allowed those beans to stage something of a comeback, but with 15% of his crop harvested, Rosa is registering yields of 44 bushels per acre, well down on normal early yields of around 50 bpa.
The farmer is hopeful that his later-planted beans will bring up his harvest yield averages over the next month, as are farmers across the region.
The problem is that rains have reduced since early February just when late-cycle crops are forming and filling pods.
"The late soy is beautiful still, but we are reaching a stage when they need rain to complete their cycle," said Osmar Frizzo, vice-president of the Querencia farm union.
According to Agroconsult's Meneghin, losses may actually have already been registered in some cases, and the region is in need of a couple of heavy showers to ensure good late-soy yields.
Unfortunately, there isn't much heavy rain on the weather charts for the region over the next week.
The region has been the focal point of much of the expansion in Mato Grosso planted area over the last five years, first around Querencia and then later farther north. At present, Agroconsult estimates the region will produce 5.0 mmt from 4.2 million acres.
DISEASE AND PEST ATTACKS DOWN
On the positive side, the dry weather has limited the spread of disease, with the feared Asian rust not putting in an appearance. Meanwhile, caterpillar populations have been well down.
On the negative, it also meant planting was undertaken in fits and starts and caused soybean maturity cycles to stretch out.
"We have fields maturing at many different times. It will make harvesting very difficult to manage," said Jose Almiro Muller, who plants 3,500 acres of soybeans in Nova Xavantina, eastern Mato Grosso.
Alastair Stewart can be reached at email@example.com
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