* Heavy Southern Hemisphere spring rains cause flooding
* Only 2 pct of soy area planted, lagging last season
* Farmers hope sunshine next week can jumpstart sowing
* Grains exchange sees 19.7 mln hectares sown with soy
By Hugh Bronstein
BUENOS AIRES, Oct 25 Floods have severely
delayed Argentine soy planting at a time when consumer nations
are counting on the country to help control soaring grains
prices by replenishing supplies, a key grains exchange said on
Food prices have surged this year due to the worst U.S.
drought in decades combined with dry crop weather in Russia and
Australia. Poor yields from these countries have put the supply
onus on South American breadbaskets Argentina and Brazil.
"Soy planting has begun, although with severe and continuous
interruptions," the Buenos Aires Grains Exchange said in its
weekly crop report.
Only 2 percent of Argentina's projected soy area had been
planted as of Thursday, lagging last year's tempo by 4.2
percentage points, the exchange said.
The weather forecast is unstable for the three days ahead
with more rains possible. But, starting on Monday, farmers hope
that the forecasted string of sunny days will help prepare their
soppy soils for planting.
Argentina, the world's No. 3 soybean exporter, has been
pelted by unusually strong rains since August, slowing first
corn and now soy planting as farmers stand by as their seeding
machines sink in the Pampas mud.
Unlike last season, when a lack of rain was the main problem
in Argentina, growers have been praying for the sunshine needed
to firm up topsoils so that planting can resume.
Soy is Argentina main agricultural export. The country is
also the top world supplier of derivatives such as soymeal
cattle feed and soyoil, used in cooking and to make biofuels.
The exchange estimates 2012/13 soy area at 19.7 million
hectares (48.7 million acres), up 4.5 percent from a 2011/12
season hobbled by a December-January dry spell that parched soy
and corn plants.
Problems posed by too much rain are less debilitating than
those posed by drought as excess moisture allows for wider
planting area, helping to offset losses caused by flooding.
This season's soy plantings have started in key farm areas
such as north-central Santa Fe province, north-central Cordoba
and east-central Entre Rios.
"Continuous rains since the start of the month ... have
saturated wide areas in the eastern part of the farm belt,
generating more and more prolonged delays," the report said.
Consumers are anxious to secure more grains supply since the
dry U.S., Russian and Australian weather has pumped Chicago soy
futures 30.5 percent higher since January. Chicago corn is
meanwhile up 16 percent and wheat a whopping 35 percent.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture forecasts Argentine soy
production in the upcoming season at 55 million tonnes, well
above the 41 million tonnes collected in 2011/12.
The Argentine government says 2012/13 soy output could smash
previous records and hit 58 million tonnes.
As of Thursday, Argentine farmers had sown 37 percent of the
3.4 million hectares expected to be dedicated to commercial-use
corn this year, according to the exchange. Corn planting
advanced 5 percentage points over the previous week, but it
trails last season's rhythm by 18 percentage points.
The USDA sees 28 million tonnes of Argentine 2012/13 corn
production and 11.5 million tonnes of wheat.
The exchange said that 4 percent of Argentina's 2012/13
wheat crop has been harvested.
"Prevailing wet conditions caused by continuous rainfall
during the (Southern Hemisphere) spring have contributed to the
spread of diseases affecting wheat crops," the report said. "And
last weekend's overflow of rivers, streams and canals in the
farm belt caused the loss of some wheat fields."
But the exchange said it kept its wheat crop estimate
unchanged at 10.1 million tonnes, thanks to good growing
conditions in southeast and southwest Buenos Aires province, the
country's biggest wheat-growing region.
(Reporting by Hugh Bronstein; Editing by Marguerita Choy)