Dry weather outlook fans drought fears in Argentina's farmlands

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BUENOS AIRES, Feb 15 (Reuters) - Argentina's farm belt is set for days of hot and dry weather ahead, weather experts said on Tuesday, stoking fears among grains farmers whose corn and soy crops are in sore need of rainfall after spells of drought.

The South American country is the world's top exporter of soybean oil and meal, and the No. 2 global exporter of corn. Both crops suffered important losses between December and the first half of January due to a drought and heat waves.

Rains in mid-January brought hope of a change in the dry climate pattern, but arid weather returned this month. Hopes are fading for abundant rains while rising temperatures have again hit the Pampas grasslands.

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"The situation in very complicated and the truth is that this 10-day period without rain that they're talking about is going to be critical," Cristian Russo, head agronomist at the Rosario grains exchange (BCR), told Reuters.

"There's a lot of anxiety, a lot of worrying."

Last month the Rosario exchange slashed its estimates for 2021/22 soy and corn production by 5 million and 8 million tonnes respectively due to the drought. The rival Buenos Aires exchange followed with its own cuts, though not quite as deep.

The BCR predicts a 40.5 million tonnes soy harvest and corn at 48 million tonnes, but has warned the season could still see a repeat of the dramatic losses in 2017/18, when drought brought the soybean harvest down to 35 million tonnes.

"We're seeing a persistence of the La Nina phenomenon and a (Southern Hemisphere) summer that is still complicated", said independent meteorologist Leonardo De Benedictis. La Nina is a weather event that lowers rainfall in central Argentina.

De Benedicts predicts highs of up to 37 degree Celsius for Tuesday and Wednesday in the central farm belt, where the eastern section has seen little to no rain for a month. A souther front would later lower temperatures, but clouds will bring "more the illusion of water, than water itself".

Precipitation, where it falls, will be below 10 millimeters.

"We've got two key weeks now for early and late planted soy," Russo said, adding the period was also crucial for late planted corn yields in Cordoba, Argentina's main corn province.

Like other experts, De Benedictis said it now appeared that the La Nina phenomenon would keep limiting rains in Argentina's most important farming regions until the beginning of the Southern Hemisphere autumn, at the end of March.

"There are forecasts of a general rain front for the end of February, but we'll see a structural change in the atmosphere probably only at the end of March or beginning of April," he said.

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Reporting by Maximilian Heath; Editing by Adam Jourdan and David Gregorio

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