U.S. crop belt slowly crawls out of disastrous drought

Fri Mar 8, 2013 9:34am EST

* Heavy rains forecast for drought-hit corn state Iowa
    * Significant showers for eastern Nebraska and Kansas
    * Soil moisture recovering after worst drought in 50 years

    By Sam Nelson
    CHICAGO, March 8 (Reuters) - More drought-relieving rainfall
is expected from Friday through the weekend in the United States
crop belt, which is slowly recovering soil moisture after
suffering the worst dry spell in decades last year.
    Agricultural meteorologists said wet weather is forecast for
 the states of Iowa, Illinois, Minnesota and Wisconsin and also
eastern Nebraska, northern Kansas and northern Colorado.
    The extended drought last summer, the worst in 50 years,
slashed more than 25 percent of the projected bushels of corn to
be produced per acre, cutting the supply of corn in the United
States to a current 17-year low.
    In the next few days, the top corn growing state of Iowa can
expect 0.65 inches (1.7 cm) of rain and up to 1.50 inches (3.8
cm) said Andy Karst, meteorologist for World Weather Inc.
    Karst said heavy snowfall and blizzard conditions would hit
the western Nebraska Panhandle and eastern Wyoming over the
weekend. The storm is expected to bring only light precipitation
of 0.15 inch (0.4 cm) to 0.50 inch (1.3 cm) in the winter wheat
areas of southern Kansas extending into the Texas Panhandle, he
said.
    Commodity Weather Group meteorologist Joel Widenor said
Nebraska, northern Colorado, Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin would
experience the best drought relief from the weekend storm.
    Widenor said that a weather system expected in the third
week of March "gives a similar chance from Nebraska into Iowa."
    Winter wheat growers in the U.S. High Plains were enjoying
improved soil-moisture conditions in some growing areas as the
region's drought levels continued to retreat, according to a
report issued on Thursday.
    Drought conditions eased because of recent snowstorms in top
wheat producer Kansas and other wheat producers Nebraska,
Oklahoma and Colorado.
    But conditions grew worse in Texas. 
    Altogether, eight U.S. states continued to suffer from the
worst levels of drought, dubbed "exceptional" by the Drought
Monitor, a report issued by a consortium of state and federal
climatologists each week. 
    Meteorologists said the significant winter snow and rain had
so far eliminated the drought conditions in an area roughly from
Illinois eastward.
    But more moisture will be needed in April and May to nurse
the winter wheat crop to maturity and aid the soon-to-be-seeded
corn and soybean crops.
    
    
   
    The heavy snowfall across the U.S. Midwest in late February
provided hope to farmers that the 2013 crop season will return
to normal after last year's drought, but a top Iowa State
University scientist warns the region is not out of the woods.
 
    "The snow is not bad news in the Corn Belt but does not give
a sure sign of a shift to great crop weather conditions. Almost
everything, 85 percent, west of I-35 is still on the dry side,"
Elwynn Taylor, Iowa State University climatologist told Reuters
on-line chat room. 
    He was referring to the stretch of farmland from central
Iowa westward to Nebraska and north to South Dakota. Those three
states produce about a third of the U.S. corn crop and soybean
crop, with Iowa being the top crop state.
    Don Keeney, a meteorologist for MDA Earthsat Weather, said
that as of early February, about 4 inches (10 cm) to 6 inches
(15 cm) of rain was needed in Kansas, the top producer of hard
red winter wheat, to bring the state out of drought status. 
    Up to 8 inches (20 cm) was needed in a pocket of severe
dryness in northeastern Kansas, a big corn- and grain
sorghum-growing area. Similar amounts were needed in Nebraska,
Texas, Oklahoma, Iowa and Missouri and northern Illinois and
Indiana.   

 (Additional reporting by Carey Gillam in Kansas City and
Christine Stebbins in Chicago; Editing by Grant McCool)
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