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climate phenomena

El Niño and plantations

Corn: a crop that may produce bigger harvests on El Niño years

EDUARDO CESARCorn: a crop that may produce bigger harvests on El Niño yearsEDUARDO CESAR

A group of researchers coordinated by Toshichika Iizumi at the National Institute for Agro-Environmental Sciences, in Japan, has mapped the impacts that the climate phenomena El Niño and La Niña may inflict on the most important crops in different regions of the world. This is likely the first project to assess the global influence of the different phases of the El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO) – the climate phenomenon responsible for the heating (El Niño) and cooling (La Niña) of surface temperatures in the Pacific Ocean – on plantations of rice, wheat, corn, and soybeans, the world’s main crops, responsible for providing up to 60% of all calories produced on agricultural land. ENSO, which can intensify rainfall in some regions and diminish it in others, affects plantation yields in different ways according to geographical location, type of crop, and the stage of heating or cooling of the Pacific. According to the study, El Niño can increase yields in up to 36% of planted areas, and reduce them in in up to 24%. The favored crops include corn, soybeans, and rice produced in Brazil. In contrast, La Niña can negatively affect up to 13% of farmland and positively affect no more than 4% (Nature Communications, May 2014). The researchers believe the map may help farmers decide what crops to grow, in addition to providing governments with a warning system against food shortages.