Crops continue drought battle

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Scattered showers are likely late Thursday into the weekend in the central and southeastern U.S. Plains hard red winter wheat region, which will provide further relief from drought stress, an agricultural meteorologist said on Wednesday.

"This will continue to add moisture for about two-thirds of the Plains, but the southwest third will remain under drought stress," said Commodity Weather Group meteorologist Joel Widenor.

The rainfall will extend into the northern Delta and Tennessee River Valley, and additional rain is expected in the Plains and Midwest off-and-on during the first two weeks of April, he said.

"The frequent showers will combine with cool temperatures to slow corn seedings," Widenor said. Cold weather early Wednesday brought frost to the Delta, with scattered freeze damage to early emerged corn in southern Mississippi, he said.

"The outlook for next week is cooler, but no additional damage threats to corn or wheat are expected," Widenor said. Freezing temperatures earlier this week probably harmed some of the wheat in portions of Texas and Oklahoma, meteorologists said.

The cold snap added to woes stemming from the worst drought in more than 50 years that continues to hamper growth and development of the hard red winter wheat crop.

Don Keeney, meteorologist for MDA Weather Services, said that as of Saturday, 6 to 8 inches of rain were needed to bring soil moisture levels back to normal in much of eastern Nebraska and a corner of northeast Kansas, while 2 to 4 inches were needed in the balance of the central Plains and about the western half of Iowa. Soil moisture levels had returned to normal in an area from eastern Iowa and Missouri eastward.

Light rains have helped reduce severe and extreme drought conditions in portions of the U.S. Plains, but abnormally dry weather lingered in the area that produces most of the country's wheat, according to a weekly report issued on Thursday.

There was little rain in Texas, resulting in an expansion of the state's area of "exceptional" dryness, the worst condition as classified by the Drought Monitor report issued by a consortium of state and federal climatologists.

But in the top wheat-growing state of Kansas, "extreme" conditions moderated slightly even though the entire state as well as the entire High Plains region, outside of part of North Dakota, remains in a drought, the report stated.

The lack of rainfall and short top soil moisture levels could stress the wheat crop and reduce yields at harvest. The crop is ending its winter dormancy, and recent below-normal temperatures may also harm the young plants.

In a separate report on Thursday, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration forecast an easing of drought conditions and above-normal temperatures this spring in both the Plains and Midwest regions.

(Additional reporting by Michael Hirtzer in Chicago; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn)



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