CORRECTED-U.S. drought relief improving, cold snap being eyed
(Corrects spelling of Widenor in paragraph 7)
* Rain and snow expected in Kansas, Colorado
* Cold snap slowing corn plantings
* Chill not expected to harm winter wheat
By Sam Nelson
CHICAGO, March 20 (Reuters) - Rain and snow is expected Friday and Saturday in Kansas and Colorado, which will add valuable moisture to dry soils in the drought-ravaged hard red winter wheat belt, an agricultural meteorologist said on Wednesday.
"It will be mostly snow and the moisture equivalent will be from 0.25 inch to 0.60 inch," said Andy Karst, a meteorologist for World Weather Inc.
Karst said temperatures would drop to the 20s (degrees Fahrenheit) to the teens in the Plains on Sunday and Monday morning.
"There will be some freezes but not cold enough to cause any damage," he said, adding that wet weather will continue to slow early corn seedings in the southern U.S. Midwest.
Commodity Weather Group (CWG) on Wednesday said the best chances for drought relief over the next week would be in central and eastern Kansas, southern Nebraska and southern Iowa.
These areas should receive a total of about 1-1/2 inches of moisture over the next two weeks, said CWG meteorologist Joel Widenor.
"Cool conditions will continue to slow the northward advance of corn seeding in the Deep South," Widenor said. "Winterkill threats in the Plains remain low despite the cold pattern."
The condition of the hard red winter wheat crop in Kansas, the biggest U.S. wheat production state, improved in the latest week but farmers were still concerned about soil moisture levels, according to government report released on Monday.
The Kansas wheat crop was rated 29 percent good to excellent as of March 17, up 2 percentage points from a week earlier, according to the Kansas field office of the U.S. Agriculture Department's National Agricultural Statistics Service.
Most of the state received only light rain during the week and top soil moisture was rated 49 percent short or very short.
In southern areas of the country, farmers were getting a fast start on spring planting.
Corn seeding in Louisiana was 56 percent complete, up from 35 percent a year ago and well ahead of the five-year average for mid-March of 21 percent. Rice planting was 25 percent finished compared with the five-year average of 8 percent and NASS's Louisiana office said weather conditions were excellent.
In Texas, 42 percent of the corn crop was planted, ahead of the five-year average of 33 percent. Wheat was rated 16 percent good to excellent and windy conditions depleted some of the already sparse soil moisture during the past week.
(Additional reporting by Mark Weinraub in Chicago; Editing by Maureen Bavdek)
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