The characteristic evolution of El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO) on timescales of months to years means that risks to agriculture have structure between seasons and years. The potential for consecutive ENSO-induced yield anomalies is of particular interest in major food producing areas, where modest changes in yield have significant effects on global markets. In this study, we analyse how multi-year El Niño and La Niña life cycles relate to climate sensitive portions of major crop-growing seasons in North and South America.
We analyse the dynamics underlying these life cycles to illustrate which aspects of the system are most important for agriculture. In North America, the same-season teleconnections affecting soybean and maize have been well studied, but we demonstrate the importance of lagged soil moisture teleconnections for wheat in the southern Great Plains. In South America, peak ENSO sea surface temperature (SST) teleconnections are concurrent with, and therefore critical for, wheat and maize growing seasons while soil moisture memory in Argentina plays an important role during the soybean growing season.
Finally, we show that ENSO teleconnection life cycles are consistent with historical yield anomalies. Both El Niño and La Niña life cycles tend to force consecutive seasons of either above or below expected yields. While the magnitude of the yield anomalies forced by ENSO is often modest, they occur in major crop-producing regions