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ARGENTINA | 12-01-2023 15:57

Satellites suggest Argentina’s soy crop will be lowest since 2018

Extreme drought is devastating soybean crops in Argentina and could result in the smallest harvest in more than a decade.

With many crop traders focusing on Argentina’s drought, one forecaster has tapped satellite imagery to make the bold prediction that the nation's upcoming soybean harvest may plunge to a five-year low.

Mickael Attia, a crop analyst with EarthDaily Analytics, sees the soy harvest in the second quarter shrinking to 36.9 million metric tons. The Buenos Aires Grain Exchange predicts that the crop could be reduced even further to 35.5 million metric tons if the drought does not ease before the second-quarter harvest. The figure would match the smallest crop the bourse has recorded since the 2009 season, also affected by a drought. Argentina is the biggest exporter of soy meal and soy oil.

“It’s a little bit aggressive, especially if there’s a change in the weather pattern in February, but right now it makes sense given the frighteningly low moisture levels,” Attia said in an interview.

His Vancouver-based firm is part of a mushrooming satellite-analytics industry that is increasingly being drawn into crop forecasting, usually in conjunction with on-the-field accounts since images and algorithms alone can’t tell the whole story. Argentine crops are in a tough spot after La Niña caused drought to farmlands, ravaged wheat and forced growers to delay soy and corn planting.

With fieldwork still getting finished and the possibility of rain in a few weeks, other prognosticators have yet to revise preseason estimates. The US Department of Agriculture estimated the soy harvest at 49.5 million tons, though it is set to update its outlook Thursday. The Rosario Board of Trade, whose forecasts tend to lead other institutions, is scheduled to publish its monthly report imminently. Rosario and the Buenos Aires Grain Exchange use farmer surveys.

While many soy plants are in bad shape, La Niña is fading. That should in theory make way for rainfall at the end of January and early February — during yield-defining growth stages — that could save the crop. 

EarthDaily Analytics also predicts an Argentine corn crop of 45.4 million tons, compared to a 50 million estimate from the Buenos Aires exchange and the USDA’s 55 million forecast. Argentina is the world’s third-biggest corn exporter.

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by Jonathan Gilbert, Bloomberg

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