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Rains spark Argentine soy planting, too late for wheat hit hardest by drought

Soy planting can start in the days ahead after rains pelted Argentina's agricultural belt, but the moisture arrived too late for wheat yields to recover from damage caused by weeks of dryness in some key farm areas, farmers said on Wednesday.

By Hugh Bronstein

BUENOS AIRES, Oct 30 (Reuters) - Soy planting can start in the days ahead after rains pelted Argentina's agricultural belt, but the moisture arrived too late for wheat yields to recover from damage caused by weeks of dryness in some key farm areas, farmers said on Wednesday.

"We have had some rain now, so we are starting to plant soybeans. But it did not come in time to help with wheat yields," said Pedro Vigneau, who operates a farm outside the town of Bolivar in the heart of the bread-basket province of Buenos Aires.

Wheat yields nationwide had been expected at 3.2 tonnes per hectare. But the drought knocked that down to 2.8 tonnes, said Gustavo Lopez, head of the Agritrend consultancy.

"Some of the damage to wheat is irreversible," Lopez said.

From an original estimate of 21 million tonnes of wheat in the 2019/20 crop, Lopez said he now expects a harvest of 19 million to 19.5 million tonnes. "The weather has been uneven. But in north and west Buenos Aires, south Santa Fe and east Cordoba provinces, it has rained and there should be no problems," he said.

DEFENSIVE CROUCH

Most of Argentina's central farm belt has seen showers over recent days, said David Hughes, a farmer in the Buenos Aires town of Alberti.

"We've had 30 to 40 millimeters in those area, which is enough to start planting soy," Hughes said. "Wheat was hardest hit by dryness in southern Buenos Aires province. The damage in other areas should be limited to 5%."

Growers are in a defensive crouch this season after President Mauricio Macri lost his bid for a second term in Sunday's election. They are cutting investment and hedging against political risk by planting soy in some areas that had originally been earmarked for more expensive corn cultivation.

"Farmers in this part of the country are transferring 10% to 20% of planned corn areas to soy. Some are transferring more," Vigneau, from the town of Bolivar, said.

Peronist Alberto Fernandez won Sunday's presidential election. His running mate is Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, a populist icon who served as Argentina's president from 2007 to 2015. She feuded with farmers, applying trade controls that Macri quickly ditched when he took office in December 2015.

The Argentine wheat is harvested in December and January. Corn is brought in March through June while soy gets harvested March through May.

(Reporting by Hugh Bronstein; Editing by Cynthia Osterman and Leslie Adler)

((hugh.bronstein@thomsonreuters.com; 5411 4318 0655; Reuters Messaging: hugh.bronstein.thomsonreuters.com@reuters.net))

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