* Dry weather seen for next two weeks
* Region already struggling with drought
* Government cites disaster in most of wheat belt
CHICAGO, Jan 10 Minimal improvement is
expected in soil moisture levels in the drought-stricken U.S.
Plains following light rains this week and the western Midwest
will remain unfavorably dry through the next two weeks, an
agricultural meteorologist said on Thursday.
"Light rains of mostly 0.25 inch or less reached from
central Kansas into western and southern Oklahoma with heavier
rains in Texas," said Joel Widenor, meteorologist for Commodity
Widenor said moisture would improve in the Delta/Midwest
soft red winter wheat region but localized flooding would occur
near the Gulf Coast.
"Cold air threats are low over the next two weeks, although
minor durum wheat areas in Arizona could see spotty freeze
damage for emergent wheat this weekend," Widenor said.
The government declared much of the central and southern
U.S. Wheat Belt a natural disaster area on Wednesday due to
persistent drought that imperils this year's winter wheat
In its first disaster declaration of the new year, the
Agriculture Department made growers in large portions of four
major wheat-growing states - Kansas, Colorado, Oklahoma and
Texas - eligible for low-interest emergency loans.
The four states grew one-third of the U.S. wheat crop last
year. Kansas was the No. 1 state at 382 million bushels.
The weekly U.S. drought monitor report from last week showed
snowfall in parts of the U.S. Plains had little impact on the
historic drought gripping the region, but parts of Illinois,
Wisconsin and the Southeast showed slight improvement.
The report issued last Thursday said, as of Jan. 1, 42.05
percent of the contiguous United States was in severe to
exceptional drought, down from 42.45 percent the previous week.
The consortium of federal and state climatology experts is
expected to issue a new drought report late this week.
(Reporting By Sam Nelson; Editing by Nick Zieminski)