The impact of strengthening El Nino on global crop yields

Nov 18, 2023

A strengthening El Nino phenomenon can lead to extreme weather events such as droughts, heat waves and heavy rainfall, which can adversely affect crop production.

The following are the impacts on several major crop-producing countries or regions:

Drought in India’s rice, sugarcane and soybean crops
Australian wheat production will be lower
Rice and palm oil supplies in Southeast Asia are at risk
U.S. wheat and South American corn soybeans will benefit from more rain

strengthening El Nino

Unseasonably dry weather in August affected cereal and oilseed crops in Asia as El Nino intensified, and lower rainfall is expected in November, further threatening the supply of these agricultural commodities.

Meteorologists and analysts said dry weather in Australia, the second largest wheat exporter, has led to lower wheat production. Insufficient monsoon rains in India will also reduce crop output in major food exporters, including rice, and poor rainfall in Southeast Asia may reduce supplies of palm oil. As the world’s largest importer of corn and soybeans, extreme weather in China also puts crop yields at risk.

Chris Hyde, a meteorologist at Maxar Technologies, an American climate data analysis platform, said that many regions around the world are facing a full-scale outbreak of the El Nino phenomenon, and the intensity of the El Nino phenomenon will intensify by the end of the year. Dry weather in Asia is linked to El Niño, he added.

El Nino, a phenomenon in which water temperatures in the Pacific Ocean rise, typically result in dry weather in Asia but can cause excessive rainfall in parts of North and South America. Let’s take a look at the impact this phenomenon will have on individual countries.



India’s four-month monsoon rains are crucial for summer crops such as rice, sugarcane, soybeans and corn, but rainfall in September was the lowest in eight years. Indian weather officials said the impact of El Nino was much greater than expected. The rainfall gap in August exceeded 30%, making it the driest August on record. El Nino will also continue to affect rainfall in November.

India, which accounts for 40% of global rice exports, has restricted exports of some varieties, causing prices of these products to rise to a 15-year high.



Analysts have lowered their Australian wheat production forecasts for the first time in four years due to insufficient rainfall in Australia’s main wheat-producing areas in August. Sydney-based Acon Commodities services director Ole Huey said wheat production would be 3 million tonnes lower than initially estimated at 33 million tonnes. If drought persists in December, wheat yields will be lower.

Southeast Asia

In Southeast Asia, rainfall is below normal in rice, palm oil, sugar cane and coffee-producing areas, with Indonesia and Thailand the worst affected. Maxar’s Mr Hyde said much of eastern Indonesia and Thailand had received very little rainfall over the past 30 to 40 days, only 50 to 70 per cent of average. Rainfall in Thailand and Indonesia will also be well below normal for most of October.

United States and South America

Drew Lerner, president of the World Meteorological Organization, said U.S. corn and soybean crops have been affected by drought in recent weeks, but the weather is not related to El Nino. From November to February, the agricultural areas of the United States will be greatly affected by the El Nino phenomenon. Precipitation in the southern United States is above average, and winter wheat will benefit.

Weather in South America is expected to be favourable for soybean and corn growth. South American soybeans and corn will be harvested in early 2024.

South America

It should be noted that the impact of El Nino on global climate is uncertain, and the extent and specific manifestations of the impact in different regions may vary depending on the intensity and duration of El Nino events and the interaction of other climate factors.

El Nino on global climate

At the same time, as global climate change develops, the impact of El Nino may change to a certain extent. Therefore, monitoring, forecasting and responding to El Nino events is of great significance to mitigate its global and human impacts.