El Niño weather hits many crops, boosts soybeans
The El Niño weather phenomenon that is likely to strike this year damages world corn, rice and wheat yields but boosts soybeans, according to a study on Thursday that could help farmers plan what to grow.
The Japanese-led report gave what it called a first global set of maps linking yields of major crops to El Niño, a warming of the surface of the tropical Pacific Ocean that can trigger downpours or droughts around the globe.
The maps are meant to help farmers decide which crops or varieties to plant and may give governments a "famine early warning system", the study in the journal Nature Communications said.
Most forecasts show an El Niño emerging in mid-2014, the U.N.'s World Meteorological Organization (WMO) said last month.
El Niño- Spanish for 'the boy' - forms every two to seven years and warning signs emerge months in advance.
Thursday's study said mean maize yields fell 2.3 percent in El Niño years compared to normal in 1984-2004, rice was down 0.4 percent and wheat 1.4 percent.
Soybean yields rose 3.5 percent, with rainfall patterns favoring big U.S. and Brazilian harvests.
In years with a La Niña event, the opposite of El Niño and cooling the Pacific surface, yields for all four dipped, according to the study by scientists in Japan, the United States, Britain, Australia and Denmark.
Lead author Toshichika Iizumi, of Japan's National Institute for Agro-Environmental Sciences, said farmers in Australia were among those who sometimes switched crop plans based on El Niño forecasts. And Indonesia, for instance, advised rice farmers to change planting dates, based on El Niño phases.
"I hope the finding of this study extends such efforts to national governments for controlling food storage, building food trade strategy, and earlier application of food aid in food insecure regions," he told Reuters.
Robert Stefanski, chief of the WMO Agricultural Meteorology Program, said the regional impacts were most relevant since he said there was "high uncertainty" about global numbers.
"It is difficult to develop and use any reliable global impact on global crop production due to El Niño/La Niña," he told Reuters.