Climatologist disputes China crop estimates

NEW ORLEANS, La. — China’s crops are not nearly as good as the Chinese government professes, says a weather expert.

Evelyn Browning-Garriss, an historical climatologist and author of the Browning Newsletter, said the country’s corn and soybean crops were blasted by hot and dry conditions during crucial stages of development.

Temperatures in the tropical eastern Pacific Ocean heated up in May to the point where it appeared it would trigger a strong El Nino by late summer.

Those conditions surprisingly dissipated, and the El Nino Southern Oscillation is now in a neutral phase. However, the warm waters that existed in May drifted north.

By July the warm water had arrived along the coast of China, leading to drought conditions in the North China Plain and Manchuria, where much of the country’s corn, soybeans and winter wheat are grown.

The drought conditions arrived at a time when the corn crop was in the vulnerable silking phase and lingered through August, when soybean pods were filling.

“It’s not that they’ve had a huge drought,” Browning-Garriss told the 2014 Oilseed & Grain Trade Summit.

“It’s that they’ve had a timely one.”

She is skeptical about government reports that crops are developing nicely, and said the Chinese have a long track record of talking prices down.

“Unfortunately, the (people) who talk (prices) up don’t have much of a voice.”

She has noticed that there has been a lot of chatter out of China about its record corn and soybean stocks carried over from previous years.

“If you have a great crop, you don’t brag about your storage,” said Browning-Garriss.

Last year’s crop was harvested during wet conditions. She thinks that stocks will be of poor quality because China’s grain storage system is sub-par. A lot of the corn was piled on the ground and didn’t dry out properly.

“Let me tell you, they invested in pre-production, not post-production. Their storage facilities are crap,” said Browning-Garriss.

This year’s situation reminds her of 2009, when Chinese officials were boasting about the size of the crop and driving prices down. Prices started to rise by late spring 2010 as the real story about China’s crop started to unfold.

“I think we’ll be seeing a repeat of that,” she said.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is forecasting 11.8 million tonnes of Chinese soybean production, down from 12.2 million last year. It is forecasting 217 million tonnes of corn production, down from 218.5 million last year.

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