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Heavy Rains Triggered by El Niño Could Hurt Brazil’s Rice Crop Yields

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Brazil’s rice crop could be in trouble as overly wet conditions persist in Rio Grande do Sul, which accounts for nearly 70% of the country’s rice production. 

Brazil is the top rice supplier in South America, providing most of its domestic needs and exporting mainly to Cuba, Peru, and Venezuela, as this Gro display shows. The country’s rice acreage has been on a steady decline over the last 20 years as other crops, including corn and soybeans, compete for sowing. This year, Brazil’s area planted to rice is expected to increase by 10% from last year, but extreme precipitation could hurt yields. 

Southern Brazil’s rainy season typically ramps up in October and peaks during December-February. El Niño tends to bring higher than average rainfall to southern Brazil, and in 2023 Rio Grande do Sul saw the second-highest total accumulated rainfall in at least 20 years, according to Gro’s Climate Risk Navigator for Agriculture

Rio Grande do Sul experienced double the average daily precipitation for the September-December period, as shown by the Gro Climate Anomalies Model. The soggy conditions also caused Brazilian soybean farmers to delay planting earlier this season, as Gro wrote about here.

Rio Grande do Sul has seen rice yields decline due to excessive rainfall in previous El Niño years, such as 2015/16 and 2002/03, as this Gro display shows. This year, the crop could still recover if Gro’s current forecasts for a return to normal precipitation levels prove true, but the situation bears continued monitoring. Brazil plants its rice crop from October to December and harvests in February through May.

The threat to Brazil’s rice crop comes in the wake of last year’s poor harvest, which sent the country’s rice export prices skyrocketing. Further, global rice inventories are falling as dry conditions, largely driven by El Niño, threaten production in some major producing countries. For example, Indian rice production could decline for the first time in eight years, adding support to already elevated global rice prices, as Gro highlighted here.  

India, normally the world’s largest rice exporter, banned exports of non-basmati white rice in July in an attempt to curb domestic food price inflation. Global rice futures prices shot up as a result, gaining 17% since July 1. 

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