Drought threat keeps pressure on US winter wheat

Thu Jan 24, 2013 8:15am EST

* No relief seen from drought in Plains

* Western Midwest also too dry

* Cold air likely caused minimal damage to wheat

By Sam Nelson

CHICAGO, Jan 24 (Reuters) - Dry weather remains a concern in the U.S. Plains hard red winter wheat region while this week's blast of Arctic air likely caused no winterkill or harm to the soft red winter wheat crop in the Midwest, an agricultural meteorologist said on Thursday.

"There will be some light rain this week in wheat country but it will miss the driest areas in the west," said Andy Karst, meteorologist for World Weather Inc.

Karst said there were no signs of drought-relieving rain or snow soon in the U.S. Plains or in the western Midwest.

Commodity Weather Group (CWG) meteorologist Joel Widenor said showers would reach about half of the Plains wheat by early next week and some light rain and snow was expected in the northwest Midwest.

"This will bring some slight improvements in soil moisture, but amounts will generally average a half inch or less," Widenor said. "Drier weather then returns, and significant drought relief is unlikely."

Last week's U.S. drought monitor showed some relief brought on by showers in portions of the United States, but the drought expanded in parts of the U.S. Plains.

Nearly 60 percent of the contiguous United States was in at least "moderate" drought as of Jan. 15, according to the drought monitor.

Officials in north-central Oklahoma declared a state of emergency due to record-low reservoir conditions. Public and private interests throughout the central United States hardest hit by drought were examining measures to try to cope with ongoing drought.

The government this month declared much of the central and southern U.S. Wheat Belt a natural disaster area due to persistent drought threatening the winter wheat harvest.

In its first disaster declaration of the new year, the U.S Department of Agriculture made growers in large portions of four major wheat-growing states - Kansas, Colorado, Oklahoma and Texas - eligible for low-interest emergency loans.

Dry weather accompanied a blast of bitter cold Arctic air this week in the northern and northeastern U.S., away from the big winter wheat growing areas of the Plains and roughly the southern half of the Midwest.

Cold temperatures this week caused minimal if any harm to the winter wheat crop, Karst said.

"It got into the single digits, which wasn't low enough to hurt any of the soft red winter crop and the zero readings were north of the wheat growing areas," Karst said.

Widenor said temperatures remain just above damage thresholds at the moment. (Reporting By Sam Nelson)

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