Renewable Farming

Equatorial Pacific anomaly 1997-2015

NASA climatologist: This could be the “Godzilla of El Niños”

For months, meteorologists have warily watched the current El Niño building in the equatorial Pacific. But they’ve cautioned the public to “wait and see” how much impact it will have.

Finally this week, Bill Patzert, a climatologist at NASA, told the Lost Angeles Times: “This definitely has the potential of being the Godzilla El Niño. If this lives up to its potential, this thing can bring a lot of floods, mudslides and mayem.”

Mike Halpert, deputy director of the Climate Prediction Center, adds: “This could be among the strongest El Niños in the historical record dating back to 1950.”

Equatorial Pacific anomaly 1997-2015
Sea surface temps in equatorial Pacific now compared with 1997

We’ve been farming with — and writing about — El Niño and La Niña oscillations since the early 1970s. Our first personal encounter was in 1972-73, when not much was known about this warming of equatorial waters west of South America. It happened to be the year I moved to Iowa and teamed up with Merrill Oster to start Professional Farmers of America.

A powerful El Niño wiped out the anchovy harvest, which was then a major supply of high-protein feed worldwide. A surge in soybean meal prices followed, amplified by feed grain crop disasters around the world. Ag commodity prices surged, and the 1970s farmland price boom went parabolic. It was a great time to be in the commodity advisory business. Farmers came to our Pro Farmer seminars, peeling off $100 bills to pay for registration.

A decade later in 1983, another disruptive El Niño cycle compounded the farmland price bust of the early 1980s. In November 1983, I wrote a detailed analysis of the impacts of this event and its impact on agriculture worldwide. It was published in Pro Farmer’s farmland letter, LandOwner. Re-reading it now, almost 32 years later, dramatized the possibilities of what could follow this powerful episode this winter (heavy rain on the California coast) and into next year (crop disruptions worldwide). Already, some farmers are planning to hang onto 2015 crops on the chances that 2016 will cripple feed grain and wheat production somewhere in the world.

You can download that six-page LandOwner article at this link. Compliments of the current LandOwner editor, Mike Walsten, who provided permission. We suggest printing it on your color printer, and tucking it away for occasional review during the 2016 season. What we saw in 1983 could be a preview of things to come in the next 12 to 18 months.

For a more contemporary overview of this cycle, browse Emily Becker’s comments at the NOAA   website at this link.

By Jerry Carlson, Renewable Farming LLC