* Winter wheat in southwest Plains likely harmed
* Rains and snow keep spring fieldwork at a minimum
* Moisture to help ease drought stress
By Sam Nelson
CHICAGO, April 10 (Reuters) - Freezing temperatures early on Wednesday likely harmed winter wheat in the southwest Plains, while rain and snow in the Plains and Midwest slowed or stalled corn plantings even as they eased drought stress, an agricultural meteorologist said.
“There was probably some damage to wheat, it dropped to the teens (degrees Fahrenheit) to low 20s F in the Texas Panhandle and down to 12 F this morning in southeast Colorado,” said Andy Karst, meteorologist for World Weather Inc.
Karst said the cold snap harmed wheat from southwest Kansas into western Oklahoma and into the Texas Panhandle.
“It will be cold again tomorrow, so there will probably be more damage,” he said.
Heavy snowfall blanketed the northern Midwest at mid-week with 20 inches of snow in Valentine, Nebraska and 6.0 inches to 12.0 inches or more elsewhere, according to Karst.
Rains of 1.0 to 2.0 inches or more covered most of the western Midwest and the rainfall will move into the eastern Midwest Wednesday and Thursday, he said.
“Moisture in the western Midwest will be beneficial, it won’t end the drought but it will add to soil moisture levels,” Karst said.
Delays in corn plantings will be widespread this week and only sporadic seedings will take place next week.
“This will shut down plantings for now, and next week, there may be rain off-and-on which will slow fieldwork,” he said.
U.S. farmers are not happy with the cold and snow that may be causing more harm to their winter wheat crop but the April showers are being welcomed following the worst drought in over 50 years that trimmed crop output last year and has been stressing the winter wheat crop.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) on Monday said 36 percent of the U.S. winter wheat crop was in good to excellent condition, up from 34 percent a week ago but well below the year-ago rating of 61 percent.
The drought has taken a toll on the winter wheat crop that has broken away from its winter dormant or hibernation status and is now growing, leaving it vulnerable to harm from cold weather or another spate of dryness.
Drought conditions are retreating slowly in the U.S. Plains, according to a report issued last Thursday by a consortium of state and federal climatologists.
Don Keeney, meteorologist for MDA Weather Services said that at the end of March, 6 inches to 8 inches (15 cm to 20 cm) of rain were needed to bring soil moisture levels back to normal in much of Nebraska and a corner of northeast Kansas.
Keeney said 2 inches to 4 inches (5 cm to 10 cm) were needed in the balance of the central Plains and western Iowa.
The Drought Monitor report, which tracks the U.S. land area stricken by drought on a weekly basis, said the Plains, which have been the hardest hit, was seeing improvement because of rains and snow in the past two months. (Editing by Bernadette Baum)