U.S. corn planters idle as rains sweep crop belt
* Wet week to stall early corn plantings
* Moisture welcomed in drought-stricken areas
* Another rainstorm expected early next week
By Sam Nelson
CHICAGO, April 8 (Reuters) - Widespread rainfall in the U.S. Midwest and Plains this week will add valuable soil moisture in drought-stricken areas but also stall spring fieldwork and prevent early corn seedings, an agricultural meteorologist said on Monday.
"It's an active storm system leaving 0.2 to 0.6 inch of rain Monday and 1.0 to 2.00 inches or more Tuesday through Thursday in most of the Midwest," said John Dee, meteorologist for Global Weather Monitoring.
Dee said lighter rains of roughly 0.25 inch could be expected in the driest areas of southwest Kansas and the Oklahoma and Texas Panhandles.
"The precipitation will be in the form of snow in the Dakotas and western Nebraska, with 6.0 to 12.0 inches possible," he said.
Another round of wet weather is expected in the crop region early next week, further slowing corn plantings, according to Dee.
A cool spring in the U.S. Midwest has farmers antsy for soils to warm up before rolling their big corn planters across fields to seed what is expected to be the largest area of the country's biggest crop since 1936.
This week marks the first official days farmers can begin planting corn in many spots across the upper Midwest, according to crop insurance policies that cover costs if replanting is necessary in the event of a flood or killing frost.
Farmers are hoping for a better season than 2012, when their yields were the smallest in 17 years due to the worst drought since the Dust Bowl years.
Drought conditions are retreating slowly in the U.S. Plains, according to a report issued Thursday by a consortium of state and federal climatologists.
MDA Weather Services meteorologist Don Keeney said that at the end of March, 6 inches to 8 inches (15 cm to 20 cm) of rain were needed to bring soil moisture levels back to normal in much of Nebraska and a corner of northeast Kansas.
Keeney said 2 inches to 4 inches (5 cm to 10 cm) were needed in the balance of the central Plains and western Iowa.
The Drought Monitor report, which tracks the U.S. land area stricken by drought on a weekly basis, said the Plains, which has been the hardest hit, was seeing improvement because of rains and snow in the past two months.
(Additional reporting by Carey Gillam in Kansas City and Michael Hirtzer in Chicago; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn)