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US corn farmers won't manage both big sowings and yields

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Will US weather turn the clock back a decade?

That is one popular theory among meteorologists .

"It is being talked about as an analogue. The winter of 2001-02 was very dry, the nearest we have had recently to last winter," weather forecaster David Tolleris said.

That would have worrying implications for growers, with 2002 seeing corn yields fall 6% year on year, back below 130 bushels an acre, while spring wheat yields tumbled 17% to a 13-year low.

'Signal for dryness'

But that was down to a hot summer which does not seem on the cards this time, Mr Tolleris, at weather service, believes.

US crop results for 2002 - yields and (year-on-year change)

Corn: 129.3 bushels per acre, (-6.4%)

Oats: 56.4 bushels per acre, (-8.3%)

Soybeans: 38.0 bushels per acre, (-4.0%)

Spring wheat (ex durum): 29.1 bushels per acre, (-17.3%)

Winter wheat crop: 38.2 bushels per acre, (-12.0%)

Furthermore, historical records show that La Ninas lasting over two successive years usually "turn very quickly into El Ninos".

And that is a "fairly strong signal for dryness for portions of the Midwest", a potential crop worry, "but not a lot of heat", which would be more helpful, after the hot summer last year blamed for hampering corn pollination and cutting yields.

"You will find people saying they have gone 17 days without rain, but temperatures have stayed mild," Mr Tolleris said.

'Planting into dust'

Not that summer drought is farmers' only worry. There is spring planting to do first.

Broker Allendale on Friday pegged US corn sowings at 95.0m acres, a post-World War II record and 1.0m hectares above the US Department of Agriculture forecast, if below an estimate from Informa Economics. forecasts for North American weather

Spring states off wet in Eastern Corn Belt

... but dry in the Upper Plains and north Western Corn Belt

A weakening La Nina brings cold, dry weather to Canada, delaying planting there

"You will get people planting, but it could be into dust," Mr Tolleris told

"You are not going to get the 94m-95m acres of corn sown that people are talking about, and get a 164 bushels an acre yield.

"To get that amount of corn plants, you are going to have to go into debatable areas. And it is going to be too wet in Kentucky and dry in the Dakotas."

Official outlook

The forecasts chime with expectations released by official US meteorologists on Thursday that the spring would likely see "drier-than-average conditions mainly in the west and parts of the south east". forecasts for world weather

Ukraine, Russia cold and snowy in March

In China, dryness over Manchuria and North China Plains could get worse this March and April

Warm and dry over France. Drought over Spain will get worse in March

"If the drought persists as predicted it will likely result in continued stress on crops and livestock due to low water levels," the NOAA said.

China, EU worries

But even if US farmers manage to avoid hardships, worries surround weather prospects for peers in some other countries.

"The North China Plains had a very dry January and February, with some areas getting 1mm-2mm of rain," Mr Tolleris said, adding that weather models suggest that dryness "could get worse" in March and April.

And in the European Union, the western dryness which flagged alerts over winter crops in the likes of France, Spain and the eastern UK will continue, to judge by the strength of the so-called Azores ridge, which is diverting the storms which would normally strike further north into Scotland and Scandinavia.

"It looks like dryness will last another month.

"It is difficult to predict after that. But if we do not get moisture, there will be problems."


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