By Naveen Thukral
SINGAPORE (Reuters) - A delay in the onset of the La Nina weather pattern this year is likely to buoy crops across key growing regions in the United States, Australia and India, a leading weather forecaster said on Thursday.
Another year of bumper production of crops such as corn, wheat and soybeans would boost global inventories that have risen near record levels following successive large harvests.
"Some models were showing La Nina developing by July but they have delayed that by a month or two now," said Kyle Tapley, senior agricultural meteorologist at U.S.-based MDA Weather Services.
La Nina, Spanish for "the girl", prompts a cooling of Pacific Ocean temperatures that brings hot and dry weather to key U.S. growing areas, while much of Asia experiences wetter conditions. It tends to occur unpredictably every two to seven years.
Tapley said El Nino, which brought drought to parts of Asia last year and impacted India's monsoon, has been weakening since November at a slower pace than previous examples of that weather pattern.
"If you compare with other strong El Nino events that we have had, 1998 and 1983, this event is weakening slower than those events. That is why La Nina has been pushed back."
Weather experts had earlier indicated the return of La Nina, for the first time since 2012, after the end of El Nino in the second quarter.
Global wheat and corn production has been rising since 2013/14, while soybean output has climbed to record highs in the last three years, thanks to near-perfect weather conditions in many producing regions.
That has kept pressure on grain prices, with wheat declining to its lowest since June 2010 this week. Soybeans dropped to their weakest since early January and corn hit a seven-week low.
Still, over the last year, El Nino has parched fields in the Philippines and Indonesia, brought unseasonable rains to areas of South America and caused flash floods in Somalia that destroyed thousands of homes.
The delay in the arrival of La Nina will mean normal weather across the U.S. Midwest between April and August - the key growing season for corn and soybeans.
"If we don't have a quicker transition to La Nina, we have less likelihood of very hot and dry summer across the United States," Tapley said on the sidelines of a grains industry seminar in Singapore.
"Our forecasts show just above normal temperatures across eastern and central U.S., but not extreme heat by any means. On the precipitation side, we are seeing close to normal in most of the corn and soybean areas across the U.S. Midwest."
Normal rainfall between April and August will favor wheat planting in Australia, he said. There could be more rainfall from August, the crucial yield-determining period for the Australian wheat crop.
"We will likely see a stronger (Indian) monsoon this year, but it depends on how quickly we move to La Nina. It might be the later part of the monsoon which might be stronger."
(Reporting by Naveen Thukral; Editing by Joseph Radford)