(Adds comparative wheat harvest estimates)
By Hugh Bronstein
BUENOS AIRES, Jan 9 (Reuters) - Argentina’s dry, hot December, which caused yield damage to the country’s budding 2013/14 corn crop, has given way to a wet January and forecasts of a wet February that should ensure a healthy soy harvest, experts said on Thursday.
The South American grains powerhouse is the world’s No. 3 exporter of both crops, and the top supplier of soymeal animal feed at a time of booming demand from China. Weeks of drought-like December weather took an irreversible toll on corn, while 2013/14 soy, which is planted later, escaped extreme damage.
“In January we’ve had good rains, and the forecasts indicate it will keep raining for the rest of the month and in February,” said Eduardo Sierra, climate consultant to the Buenos Aires Grains Exchange.
Temperatures are also falling around the Pampas grains belt, giving crops a break from the scorching start of the Southern Hemisphere summer. Temperatures in Argentina’s main farm province of Buenos Aires are expected to remain below 35 degrees centigrade over the week ahead.
“Soybeans are doing well because it is planted later than corn. The December heat struck while soy plants were still in their vegetative state, which slowed development but allowed them to escape permanent damage,” Sierra said.
“The situation for corn is less favorable. It was planted earlier than soy. So the heat wave in December hit just as corn plants were in their reproductive state,” he added.
He said he expects a soybean crop of about 50 million tonnes this season and about 20 million tonnes of corn.
December’s dry spell also took a toll on 2013/14 wheat, 98 percent of which had been collected by Thursday, according to a weekly report from the grains exchange that forecast a harvest of 10.10 million tonnes, down from a previous estimate of 10.35 million tonnes.
The Rosario grains exchange sees a wheat crop of 9.5 million tonnes this season while the agriculture ministry expects a 9 million tonne harvest.
As of Thursday, Argentina farmers had planted 91 percent of the soybeans expected to go into the ground this season, and 83 percent of the corn, the Buenos Aires exchange said.
The Argentine government has yet to offer harvest forecasts for the 2013/14 crop year. The U.S. Department of Agriculture expects the country to produce 54.5 million tonnes of soy and 26 million tonnes of corn.
Pablo Adreani, head of AgriPAC consultants in Buenos Aires, recently lowered his estimate for 2013/14 corn to 25 million tonnes from 28 million. “The reason for the decrease in expectations is the drought,” he said.
If January and February see good rains on the Pampas, Adreani said he may restore part of his earlier corn forecast, and increase the 56 million tonne forecast he has made for Argentine soybeans. (Additional reporting by Maximilian Heath and Maximiliano Rizzi; Editing by Stephen Powell, James Dalgleish and Peter Galloway)