Crops get valuable drink, but more rain needed soon

CHICAGO Tue Jul 24, 2012 8:46am EDT

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CHICAGO (Reuters) - Rainfall in the northern Midwest over the next 10 days will provide some relief for the drought-stricken corn and soybean crops, but more rain is needed to stem further crop losses, an agricultural meteorologist said Tuesday.

"It's a wetter forecast than we saw earlier. There's a better chance of rain from Minnesota into Michigan and into the eastern Ohio River Valley," said Jason Nicholls, meteorologist for AccuWeather.

From 1 to 1.25 inches of rain could be expected, mainly in the northern Midwest, over the next 10 days. But it will remain too dry in an area extending from Iowa to central Illinois and back into Missouri and Kansas.

An early morning storm with wind gusts from 60 to 65 miles per hour rolled into Chicago early Tuesday, leaving 0.50 to 0.60 inch of rain with locally heavier amounts, Nicholls said.

"Rockford, Illinois had 0.60 inch, and 0.50 inch at O'Hare, wind gusts of 60 mph were reported at Midway and O'Hare and 65 mph at Rockford," Nicholls said.

Temperatures will remain in the 80s to 90s degrees Fahrenheit for the next two days, followed by a cooler trend, only to heat up again next week into the 90s to triple digits, he predicted.

Near relentless drought and extreme heat have led to a rapid deterioration of America's corn crop that had been projected to be a record this year. Soybean plants have likewise suffered.

In its latest condition report issued on Monday, the U.S. Agriculture Department further reduced its estimate of the amount of corn in the good-to-excellent category to 31 percent, well below the 62 percent rating a year ago.

As the heat mounted, Chicago Board of Trade (CBOT) corn and soybean futures prices late last week hit record highs of above $8 per bushel for corn and above $17 for soybeans. Profit-taking and a turn to wetter weather early this week prompted two days of declines for corn and soybean futures prices.

CBOT corn prices on Tuesday were trading around $8 per bushel, down more than 3 percent from the record high $8.28-3/4 set on Friday. Soybean prices were trading at $16.66, down 6 percent from the record $17.77-3/4 also set on Friday.

Commodity Weather Group (CWG) on Monday said hot weather would continue in the Midwest for the next two days, and heat would linger in the southwest.

"The showers will reduce but not eliminate Midwest dryness," CWG stated in a weather report.

The most expansive drought in more than a half century has led to cuts in estimated production. The lack of rain was drying up waterways and beginning to slow river shipments of commodities to export ports on the Gulf of Mexico.

Recent rains come too late to help the early planted corn that already had pollinated during the height of the hot weather and dryness, but late-planted corn and a good chunk of the nation's soybean crop will find relief this week.

An MDA EarthSat Weather crop tour this week found yield prospects in Ohio and Indiana sharply lower than a year ago due to damage from the drought.

The federal government's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) on Thursday issued a forecast that showed no relief from the drought for at least the rest of this summer.

NOAA said in a report on Monday that, based on the Palmer Drought Index, 55 percent of the contiguous United States was under moderate to extreme drought in June, making it the largest land area in the United States to be affected by a drought since December 1956.

(Reporting by Sam Nelson; Editing by John Picinich)

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