* Dry spell had cast doubt on final yields
* Showers seen causing minor impact in northern areas
* Gov't, farmers see record crop of more than 8 mln tonnes
By Mariel Cristaldo
ASUNCION, Feb 21 Paraguay's soy farmers should
gather a record 2012/13 crop of more than 8 million tonnes after
recent rains eased concerns that yields could take a last-minute
pounding from dryness in the world's No. 4 exporter.
While the South American country's harvests are small when
compared with those of neighboring soy giants Argentina and
Brazil, the agriculture ministry forecasts record output of 8.4
million tonnes, more than twice last season's drought-hit crop.
Three weeks before the bulk of harvesting will come to an
end, average yields are running at 3.0 tonnes per hectare. In
some southeastern farming areas, yields of 4.5 tonnes per
hectare have been recorded.
Government farming officials say the tinder-dry weather of
recent weeks only hurt crops in northern areas, which account
for about 10 percent of the country's soy area.
"These 30 or 40 days without rain did have an impact, but
not to a great extent. With these rains, things have recovered,"
said Edgar Mayeregger, director of the agriculture ministry's
risk management unit.
"The estimate is for a decline (in production) of 10 percent
in the north, in a few places, but nothing more than that," he
told Reuters, maintaining the government's output forecast.
Paraguay's largest soy-farming cooperative, Colonias Unidas,
which groups 2,600 growers, said production could climb to as
much as 8.5 million tonnes.
"Last year, we had an average yield of 1.1 tonnes per
hectare, which wasn't even enough to cover direct production
costs. This year, we're going to make up for that and it will
improve farmers' financial situation in general," said the
cooperative's general manager, Ricardo Wollmeister.
The government will update its production estimate in
mid-March when growers in the main soy belt have gathered most
of their crops.
Freshly harvested beans are already being shipped to markets
in Asia and the European Union. By mid-February, Paraguay had
exported just over 600,000 tonnes of soy, according to the
latest customs data.
Farmers expect the rate of shipments to slow as soy-crushing
plants come on line and absorb larger volumes of beans. Archer
Daniels Midland, Bunge and Louis Dreyfus are
preparing to open two large processing factories.
"The crushers are going to start operating and that means
there will be exports throughout the year, the export season
will be a lot longer. Still, at the moment, exports are normal
and there haven't been any problems," Wollmeister said.
Paraguay currently crushes about 30 percent of its soy
harvest, but industry analysts expect that to reach 60 percent
due to the new plants.
Hamburg-based oilseeds analysts Oil World said last month it
expected soybean crushings to more than double between February
2013 and January 2014, probably reaching a record 3.2 million