How El Niño can Impact Crops


It’s officially here, and most meteorologists expect El Niño to hang around until at least early 2016. That has farmers wanting to know how this weather phenomenon might affect their crops. Jerry Lehnertz, vice president of lending at AgriBank Farm Credit Bank asserts that it’s extremely difficult to predict the exact impact, although “past performances” can lead to some pretty solid educational guesses.

And largely, past performances of crop yields during El Niño give reason to be encouraged,” he says.

“Our analysis of historical records indicates that, with a few exceptions, El Niño is strongly correlated with positive yields for both corn and soybean crops,” he says.

In particular, when El Niño conditions are present, the U.S. can generally expect:

  • Warmer-than average temperatures in the western and northern U.S.
  • Wetter-than-average conditions in parts of the U.S. Gulf Coast and Florida.
  • Drier-than-average conditions in the Ohio Valley and Pacific Northwest.

“History shows that it’s uncommon to have subpar national crop production results for corn in soybeans except in the few cases where very hot, dry weather occurs during the critical crop development phase in June and July,” Lehnertz says. “If predictions are correct, this could signal higher-than-expected corn and soybean yields this year.”

Farmers should adjust marketing and operations plans based on short- and long-range weather forecasts, Lehnertz says. Also, ensure you have appropriate risk-management tools in place to guard against potentially extreme weather, he says.

Christopher Narayanan, head of agricultural commodities research at Societe Generale in New York, told AgWeb in May that if El Niño delivers bigger crops, that will inevitably push down prices.

“Corn yields are usually improved in an El Niño, and prices tend to drop for the first few months only to recover slightly, then drop dramatically into harvest and then eventually recovering seasonally,” he says.

According to the Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute, El Niño’s effects are often strongest globally from September to November, causing much drier-than-usual weather in large portions of India, Indonesia, the Philippines, Australia, and South America (including Brazil). Cotton and wheat often see a small price bounce if some of these overseas competitors struggle with their crops, Narayanan says.

For a look at how the fall and winter seasons could shape up under El Niño conditions, click here.

For all of AgWeb’s weather coverage, plus local conditions and a dozen maps measuring soil moisture, growing degree days, seasonal rainfall and much more, visit

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Spell Check

joe black
boise, ID
7/29/2015 12:52 PM

  I know a carribian who throws the bones to predict the weather.for more answers look at youtube geoengineering and whistle blowers

macomb, IL
7/28/2015 07:47 PM

  john c might be's supposed to be wet this winter along the western coast...there seems to be a difference of interpretation here...but we're betting the west coast gets sopped...otherwise, corn and soy looking pretty good here in west-central IL...

John McConnehey
Visalia , CA
7/28/2015 06:33 PM

  How can you say an El Nino year brings warm weather to CA? El Nino years bring above normal rain and snow to the West Coast. The last 2 years have been the warmest winters on record. Not enough dormant cold days; trees blooming early before pollen. I have lived in the Central Valley of California since 1956; never have I seen such craziness. But El Nino bringing warm weather just doesn't sound right.


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