Rural producers in Paraná are not enthusiastic about the soybean harvest that is starting now. The main Brazilian commodity, soybeans faced such high temperatures in some parts of the state that a portion of production dried up in the fields.
Little or no rain increased the problem, observed especially in cities in the northern region of the state, where there is a forecast of a drop of more than 30% in relation to a historical harvest average.
The scenario was seen between the end of December and the beginning of January, when rural producers were already waiting for what they call summer. But, with El Niño and in the context of the climate crisis, the usual summer season gained strength, taking farmers by surprise.
“This was not a super El Niño. We had that between 2015 and 2016. But climate change intensifies the effects of the El Niño phenomenon”, says meteorologist Desirée Brandt, from Nottus Meteorologia.
According to her, El Niño, which is the warming of the Pacific Ocean in its equatorial portion, reached its peak at the end of 2023, but should remain in force in the coming months.
A forecast from the US meteorological agency released this week indicates that the La Niña climate pattern could emerge in the second half of 2024 — bringing new concerns to agriculture. This should occur shortly after the transition from El Niño to a brief period of conditions considered neutral, in the middle of this year.
In Brazil, El Niño usually generates a scenario of more drought in the North and more rain in the South. “And, in the ‘core’, in the Center-West, Southeast and northern Paraná regions, there is a poor distribution of rain”, he explains she.
In La Niña, the situation is reversed, with more rain in the North and Northeast regions and less in the South. In the Central-West and Southeast, the impacts, as in El Niño, fluctuate.
“More than quantity of rain, the issue is the quality of rain. It often doesn’t stop happening. But it is more punctual, in the sense of its spatial distribution and also over time. This irregularity ended up compressing our calendar agricultural.”
In Paraná, due to the poor spatial distribution of rain, rural producers with nearby crops are having different harvests. Another factor that is influencing the harvest is the time of planting. Those who started sowing seeds earlier caught the heat at the end of December during a delicate phase of farming, when grain was being filled.
Santa Catarina and Rio Grande do Sul, which also recorded high temperatures at the end of the year, are not expected to see a soybean harvest failure like that in Paraná. This is because the heavy rain that hit both states from September to November postponed the planting of seeds.
“Everything that the producer had planned to plant there in October, November, was concentrated in December, because of the rain. In Rio Grande do Sul, there were also high temperatures at the end of the year, but the crop was in vegetative development and did not suffer “, explains Alencar Rugeri, technician at Emater-RS (Technical Assistance and Rural Extension Company).
Despite this, the gauchos remain on alert. “It’s a very tense and complex period. That rain at the end of last year was unimaginable. And, at the time, corn was being planted. The water took nutrients from the soil, an incalculable loss”, says Rugeri.
Other states are likely to have problems harvesting soybeans, due to the excessive heat at the end of the year, in the opinion of the Secretary of Agriculture and Supply of Paraná, Norberto Ortigara. He mentions regions of Mato Grosso, Mato Grosso do Sul, Tocantins and Goiás.
“It will not be a surprise if the Brazilian harvest [de soja] fall a lot,” he says.
Ortigara says that the plants “cooked” in the north of Paraná, when the thermometers were around 40°C in the second half of December. “There were heat of 36 ° C to 40 ° C in the environment, and 50 ° C to 55 ° C in the middle of the field. There is no plant that can resist it,” he says.
“When it’s a normal summer, without very high temperatures, the crop survives 15, 20 days without rain. But, with very high temperatures, it started to have a negative impact”, adds Flavio Turra, Technical and Economic Development manager at Ocepar (Union and Organization of Cooperatives of Paraná).
Entities such as Ocepar are asking the federal government to extend payments linked to the cost of the harvest. In addition to the losses in planting, Turra states that the low price of soybeans today is another negative factor. “A bag is in the range of R$105, R$110. There is little harvest and the price is still low”, he complains.
Irrigation and resistant seeds
For researcher Reinaldo Silveira, from Simepar (Paraná Environmental Technology and Monitoring System), the farmer will need a different look from now on.
“It’s not just El Niño anymore, which has always happened and is always established between decades. There is the issue of global warming. So we have to think more about the ecosystem, what monoculture interferes with, the lack of diversity”, he highlights.
“But, of course, people don’t mobilize overnight. When it’s a year-to-year thing, the farmer sometimes prefers to suffer losses and then recover than to mobilize and change completely”, he assesses.
In Paraná, rural producers are not accustomed to irrigation, a system implemented in only 1% of properties. “Paraná has always had a very reasonable rainfall regime”, explains the secretary.
Turra, from Ocepar, adds that irrigation is expensive and that, historically, the cost-benefit is not favorable to rural producers in Paraná. “In the future, if things get worse, irrigation may be expanded,” he says.
But other alternatives are being studied in the face of the climate crisis, such as the development of even more heat-resistant seeds.
“There is an effort by research bodies to eventually generate materials that are more tolerant to water stress. Embrapa itself [Empresa Brasileira de Pesquisa Agropecuária] works with a line of research to generate new soybean varieties that can face longer periods of water shortage. But it’s longer-term work”, says Ortigara.
Turra and the Secretary of Agriculture add that some practices, such as direct planting, for example, can help in the heat. Direct planting, when there is no removal of residual vegetation from the previous crop, conserves moisture in the soil.
“An important step is to refine the quality direct planting process, to make a good ‘straw’ to protect the soil. The other step is to progressively start to rationally use irrigation as a production method, preferably with stored water. While the most resistant and tolerant plants don’t come”, argues the secretary.