La Nina, Storms Affected 2020 Production

La Nina is the term used to identify the coupled ocean-atmosphere phenomenon that is the colder counterpart of El Nino, as part of the broader El Nino-Southern Oscillation climate pattern.

In the central U.S., summer temperatures averaged 1 to 4 degrees Fahrenheit above normal, with precipitation less than 75% of normal. August was especially dry. Iowa had its third-driest August on record; the southwest Iowa crop district had a record-dry August; Illinois logged its 13th-driest August.


As harvest reached its final stages in November, USDA production estimates showed the impact of these summer developments. In August, USDA estimates called for record corn production of 15.3 billion bushels (bb) with a record yield of 181.8 bushels per acre (bpa), and a record soybean crop of 4.42 bb with a new soybean yield record of 53.3 bpa. (August input data was collected prior to the derecho.) By November, the corn production estimate had dropped by 800 million bushels (mb) or 5% to 14.5 bb, and the soybean crop size shrank by 250 mb or 6% to 4.17 bb — both numbers shy of new records. Corn yield likewise pulled back to 175.8 bpa with the soybean average yield falling to 50.7 bpa.


2020 also featured record hurricane activity. The 2020 Atlantic Basin hurricane season was the most active and seventh costliest on record.

This was the fifth straight year for above-average Atlantic hurricane activity from 2016 on. A total of 30 named storms formed in the basin, which ties 2020 with 2005 for the record. Total hurricane damage is estimated at $41 billion. Hurricanes also claimed the lives of at least 436 people.

Thirteen hurricanes formed, with six reaching major hurricane status. A record 10 hurricanes were noted with rapid intensification, tying the total set in 1995. So many storms formed that identification was forced into using the Greek alphabet for only the second time. Producers along the U.S. Gulf Coast sustained damage and harvest disruptions.

Meanwhile, Central America was devastated by late-season hurricanes Eta and Iota. In Honduras, damage from Eta and Iota is estimated at more than $10 billion, or about 40% of the entire Gross Domestic Product of Honduras.


As the year ended, the entire ag industry shared concern about the continued impact of La Nina. La Nina is forecast to enhance drought in the Southern Plains and western Midwest while bringing wet conditions in the eastern Midwest.

In South America, late-year 2020 crop estimates were already being reduced in Argentina due to expected dryness from La Nina. These concerns indicate industry nervousness already about crop size in 2021; a far cry from the generally hopeful tone prior to the whiplash of 2020.


Editor’s Note:

A video of DTN Senior Ag Meteorologist Bryce Anderson’s weather summary of 2020 and outlook for 2021 is available to those who registered for the DTN Ag Summit on the Ag Summit digital platform at…

There is still time to register and catch all the DTN Ag Summit content through Jan. 8. at

Bryce Anderson can be reached at

Follow him on Twitter at @BAndersonDTN

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