US reclaims title of world's top soybean producer

The US reclaimed the title of the world's biggest soybean producer, downgrading Brazil's harvest thanks to "hot and dry conditions" which had hurt output in Paraguay too.

The US Department of Agriculture lowered by 1.5m tonnes to 88.5m tonnes its forecast for Brazil's soybean harvest, highlighting the impact of temperatures above 35 degrees Celsius for 17 days in some regions.

"About 40% of Brazil's soybean production was subject to extremely hot and dry conditions," the USDA said, if adding that "rains arrived by mid-February, providing much-needed relief".

The downgrade, while still putting Brazil on course for a record soybean crop, meant it was no longer on track to overtake the US, which reaped 89.5m tonnes in its latest harvest.

Brazil is still expected to retain the title of top soybean exporter, gained last season, with the estimate for 2013-14 volumes kept at 45.0m tonnes.

'Yield prospects down significantly'

The USDA said that soybean yield potential had been reduced for crops in the Brazilian states of Rio Grande do Sul, Santa Catarina, Sao Paulo, and Minas Gerais - but particular in Paraná, which initial studies show has lost some 1m tonnes in soybean output.

"Parana soybeans were at late reproductive crop stages during the hot and dry period and were the most affected, with yield prospects down significantly," the USDA said.

Conversely, in Mato Grosso, "the harvest for the longer-cycle soybeans was interrupted by heavy rains in late February, causing some quality damage, and contrasting with record results from the short-cycle crop.

Brazilian farmers tend to plant a mixture of short and later cycle crops, an effect further extended through different sowing times, to stagger the harvest in what can be a wet time of year.

 Early harvested crops too offer a greater potential for enabling a follow-on safrinha crop, typically corn, but which can also be cotton or wheat, or even more soybeans.

'Extreme heat'

The dry weather in Brazil, which has also dented hopes for coffee and sugar production, extended into Paraguay, where some crops suffered "extreme heat during the peak of growth and pod set", the USDA said.

Indeed, the weather had later-planted crops hardest, which were in this phase when dryness struck, a dynamic reflected in decreasing yields as harvest progress.

"Early planting was beneficial and allowed a portion of the crop to flower before three scorching weeks in December.

"Sporadic rains during December and January further hurt later-planted soybeans."

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