* Wet weather and snow hampering corn plantings
* Corn plantings have fallen to record low pace
* Kansas wheat tour reporting results of drought damage
By Sam Nelson
CHICAGO, May 2 Rain and snow this week in the U.S. Corn Belt will further slow corn plantings, already at a record low pace, and freezing temperatures are threatening further harm to the southwest Plains hard red winter wheat crop, an agricultural meteorologist said.
"The current system is bringing rains of 0.50 inch to 1.5 inches or more with widespread coverage in a line roughly west of Louisville to Chicago, with lighter amounts in the east," said John Dee, meteorologist for Global Weather Monitoring.
Dee said snow was falling in central and western Iowa and southern Minnesota. Temperatures had fallen to the upper 20s in degrees Fahrenheit in winter wheat areas of eastern Colorado and western Kansas, he said, with readings from 30 F to 35 F in the Panhandles of Oklahoma and Texas.
Another round of freezing temperatures is expected early Friday, he said.
A series of cold snaps already has harmed some of the wheat crop grown in the southwest Plains. Current rainfall, while easing drought stress, is too little too late to revive some of the wheat fields in Kansas that suffered last fall and over the winter from the worst drought in over 50 years.
Winter wheat yield prospects in southern and western Kansas are below the five-year average and down 15 percent from a year ago due to drought, with some western fields expected to yield nothing, crop scouts on an annual state tour said Wednesday.
Kansas is the top U.S. wheat state and the largest producer of hard red winter wheat, which is typically milled into flour for bread.
This week's storm system in the Plains and Midwest is waning, but showers are expected to linger into the weekend, Dee said. It will be drier early next week, but there are mixed forecasts for later next week.
The American weather model indicates only light rain, Dee said, while the European model indicates wet weather. "I'm going with the wetter outlook," he said.
Rain around the U.S. Midwest kept farmers out of fields last week, matching the slowest corn planting pace ever, government data released on Monday showed.
The weather also took a toll on the developing winter wheat crop, which deteriorated to its worst condition for this time of year in 17 years.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture said corn planting as of April 28 was 5 percent complete, just 1 percentage point ahead of where farmers were a week ago. The pace was the slowest since 1984, when farmers also had completed just 5 percent of their corn planting.
The USDA's weekly crop progress report showed the 5 percent corn planting completion pace as of Sunday was a huge drop from 49 percent a year earlier and down sharply from the 31 percent five-year average seeding pace.
Analysts had predicted corn planting to be 9 percent finished, according to the average of 13 estimates in a Reuters poll that ranged from 7 percent to 11 percent.
Chicago Board of Trade wheat and corn futures were trading higher on Thursday, boosted by concerns of production losses due to late corn seedings and weather damage to the winter wheat crop. (Additional reporting by Julie Ingwersen in Wichita, Kansas; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn)