Good weather seen for last leg of Argentine soy, corn sowing
* Wheat harvest nears end, yields hurt by flooding
* Dry weather seen ahead, bolstering hopes for soy, corn
* World needs South American grains after poor U.S. harvest
BUENOS AIRES, Jan 2 (Reuters) - Dry weather that has allowed Argentine farmers to speed soy and corn planing over recent weeks is expected to last until mid-January, setting the stage for big harvests as early-season flooding gives way to a blazing Southern Hemisphere summer sun.
Weak crops in fellow breadbaskets Russia and the United States stoked world food prices last year, putting the onus on Argentina and neighboring Brazil to supply the market and provide affordable staples for poor consumer nations.
Argentina is the world's No. 2 corn exporter after the United States and the biggest supplier of soyoil and soymeal.
Nerves were strained on the vast Pampas grains belt early this season when unusually hard August-October storms flooded wide areas, turning prime farmland into unplantable mush.
But growers in most of the main crop belt have stepped up the pace of planting over the last two weeks and analysts say the acreage lost to flooding should be offset by wider seedings made possible by the rains.
"The first half of January will be dry, with normal levels of rainfall expected in the second half," said Anthony Deane, head of consultancy Weather Wise Argentina.
"The flooding will not do any more damage than it already has this season, and it will not affect soy or corn yields because we have the whole summer ahead of us, which will allow for a lot of evaporation," Deane said.
Argentina's nearly collected wheat harvest, on the other hand, "is showing moderate to bad yields" caused by fungus-based diseases bred by too much water.
The government expects wheat output of 10.5 million tonnes in the 2012/13 crop year, having cut its original estimate from 11.5 million tonnes due to the soppy conditions.
The Pampas got an average 120 to 250 millimeters of rain in December, compared with the usual 120 to 190 millimeters.
"February will be about as wet as December was, but the effect on topsoils will be neutralized by hotter weather, which means increased evaporation," Deane said.
Argentine summer starts Dec. 21. The dog days of February bring blazing sun and some of the hottest weather of the year.
The United Nations warns that supply tensions could cause more global food price volatility in 2013.
High grain prices not only increase hunger and instability in poor parts of the world, they fuel inflation in developed countries as well, making it harder for central banks to spur growth and fight unemployment by keeping interest rates low.
Argentine soy planting is expected to be done in about one month, with corn seeding expected to wrap up in mid-February.
The country's biggest ever soy harvest was the 52.7 million tonnes collected in the 2009/10 crop year, according to the Agriculture Ministry, which says Argentina's record corn crop was the 23.8 million tonnes.
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) forecasts Argentina will produce 55 million tonnes of soybeans this season and 27.5 million tonnes of corn.
The soy and corn that has been planted so far in the 2012/13 season is in good condition and should provide high yields, as long as there are no major setbacks in terms of the weather in January or February, local agronomists say.
"It's too early to say that corn and soy are on their way to record harvests this season. Too many things can happen over the next two months," said Jose Luis Aiello, head of the Applied Climatology Consultancy in Buenos Aires province.
"But we are sure the harvests are going to be big," he said. (Reporting By Hugh Bronstein; Editing by David Gregorio)
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