Snow and rain help inch U.S. crop belt out of drought

Fri Mar 15, 2013 8:28am EDT

* More moisture needed to eliminate drought
    * Farmers preparing to sow spring corn and soybeans
    * Plains wheat begins to break from winter slumber

    By Sam Nelson
    CHICAGO, March 15 (Reuters) - Increased rainfall and some
snow are expected by the weekend and again late next week in the
northern U.S. Midwest and southern portions of the region, which
will add valuable soil moisture ahead of spring seedings of corn
and soybeans, an agricultural meteorologist said on Friday.
    The extended drought last summer, the worst in 50 years,
slashed more than 25 percent of the projected bushels of corn
crop per acre, cutting supplies in the United States to the
current 17-year low.
    "From 4 to 8 inches of snow or roughly 0.50 inch to 0.75
inch of moisture equivalent is expected in the Dakotas,
Minnesota and Wisconsin," said Don Keeney, meteorologist for MDA
Weather Services. "It certainly will add soil moisture."
    Keeney also said warmer weather this week in the U.S. Plains
hard red winter wheat region will be replaced by colder weather
next week.
    "Much of the crop in the far south broke dormancy this
week," he said, "but I think with the colder weather next week,
there won't be much emergence (break from dormancy) from central
Kansas into Nebraska."
    Winter snowfall and recent rains have helped add soil
moisture to the drought-stricken Plains wheat and cattle-grazing
region, but more rain is needed to bring soil moisture levels
back to normal, Keeney and others said.
    Commodity Weather Group meteorologist Joel Widenor said the
weekend showers and snow would ease the drought a bit in the
northwestern Midwest, and showers over the next two weeks would
help in the Plains.
    But "the southwestern Plains will rely on recent
improvements in topsoil moisture to support spring growth of
winter wheat," Widenor said.
    "Early corn seeding in the Delta and Southeast will slow
occasionally due to showers and intermittent cool weather over
the next two weeks, but only minor interruptions are
anticipated," he said.
    Drought continued to retreat in many areas of the U.S.
Plains as snow and rainfall replenished parched soils and gave
farmers and ranchers an improved outlook for better crop and
livestock conditions, according to a report issued on Thursday.
 
    Eight U.S. states continued to suffer from the worst level
of drought, dubbed "exceptional" by the Drought Monitor, a
report issued by a consortium of state and federal
climatologists each week. But many saw improvement.
  
      
    Keeney said that as of March 9, about 2 to 4 inches (5 to 10
cm) of rain were needed in Kansas, the top producer of hard red
winter wheat, to bring the state out of drought status.
    That was an improvement from early February when about 4
inches to 6 inches (10 to 15 cm) of rain was needed. 
    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 nearly the
eastern third of Nebraska.
    Northwest Iowa and south-central Minnesota needed from 4 to
6 inches (10 to 15 cm) to get soils back to normal moisture
levels. 
    Near-normal soil moisture was seen in most of Missouri and
all of Illinois, Wisconsin, Indiana, Ohio and Michigan.

 (Additional reporting by Carey Gillam in Kansas City; Editing
by Lisa Von Ahn)
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