Cold snap and showers slowing U.S. spring fieldwork

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Below-normal temperatures and wetter weather are expected in the U.S. crop belt over at least the next two weeks, which will help boost depleted soil moisture reserves but also slow early spring fieldwork and corn plantings, an agricultural meteorologist said on Tuesday.

"It looks like below normal temperatures on into the first of April so there certainly won't be much planting done," said Don Keeney, meteorologist for MDA Weather Services.

Keeney said low temperatures would range in the teens (degrees Fahrenheit) to 20s F across a broad swath of the Midwest corn and soybean growing region and in the U.S. Plains hard red winter wheat belt.

"There shouldn't be any harm from winterkill, the coldest readings will be in the north where there is a protective snow cover," he said. Keeney said there would be rain by late week in the Plains and the Delta and snow by Saturday in the northwest Plains states including Nebraska and Kansas.

Commodity Weather Group (CWG) on Tuesday said the wettest areas in the next two weeks would be in the eastern Midwest region of the Ohio river valley, keeping soil moisture abundant for soft red winter wheat and ahead of corn seeding.

"Cool temperatures will continue to slow soils from warming and will keep early seeding well behind last year's abnormally fast pace," said CWG meteorologist Joel Widenor.

"Temperatures are unlikely to dip below winterkill thresholds in any parts of the Plains. Wheat areas in much of Kansas, Colorado and western Nebraska will benefit from rain and snow Thursday through Saturday," Widenor said.

The condition of the hard red winter wheat crop in Kansas, the biggest U.S. wheat production state, improved in the latest week but farmers were still concerned about soil moisture levels, according to government report.

The Kansas wheat crop was rated 29 percent good to excellent as of March 17, up 2 percentage points from a week earlier, according to the Kansas field office of the U.S. Agriculture Department's National Agricultural Statistics Service.

Most of the state received only light rain during the week and top soil moisture was rated 49 percent short or very short.

In southern areas of the country, farmers were getting a fast start on spring planting.

Corn seeding in Louisiana was 56 percent complete, up from 35 percent a year ago and well ahead of the five-year average for mid-March of 21 percent. Rice planting was 25 percent finished compared to the five-year average of 8 percent and NASS's Louisiana office said weather conditions were excellent.

In Texas, 42 percent of the corn crop was planted, ahead of the five-year average of 33 percent. Wheat was rated 16 percent good to excellent and windy conditions depleted some of the already sparse soil moisture during the past week. (Additional reporting by Mark Weinraub in Chicago; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)



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