Rains help ease U.S. drought pressure on crops

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Additional drought-relieving rain fell over the weekend across a broad swath of the U.S. crop region, an agricultural meteorologist said on Monday.

"There was 0.25 inch to 0.75 inch, with locally heavier amounts in most of the Plains hard red winter wheat belt," said John Dee, meteorologist for Global Weather Monitoring.

Dee said lighter amounts fell in the western third of the Plains. Most of Iowa, Minnesota and northern Missouri received 0.50 inch to 1.00 inch or more, and showers were occurring early Monday in northern Illinois.

"It will be quiet this week, with light snow in the north on Friday and Saturday," Dee said. "There are mixed ideas for next week; some forecasts have more rain, but others don't."

Commodity Weather Group (CWG) meteorologist Joel Widenor said the most notable drought relief over the weekend was in Iowa, eastern Nebraska, southern Minnesota and eastern South Dakota.

"Rains will diminish the rest of this week, allowing for some early corn seeding in the southern Delta," Widenor said. However, "showers will expand in the southern Midwest and in the Delta next week, while the Plains generally trend drier," he said.

The extended drought last summer, the worst in 50 years, slashed more than 25 percent of the projected bushels of corn to be produced per acre, cutting supplies in the United States to the current 17-year low.

Winter wheat growers in the U.S. High Plains were enjoying improved soil-moisture conditions in some growing areas as the region's drought levels continued to retreat, according to a report issued on Thursday.

Drought conditions eased because of recent snowstorms in top wheat producer Kansas and other wheat producers Nebraska, Oklahoma and Colorado.

But conditions grew worse in Texas.

Altogether, eight U.S. states continued to suffer from the worst levels of drought, dubbed "exceptional" by the Drought Monitor, a report issued by a consortium of state and federal climatologists each week.

Meteorologists said the significant winter snow and rain had so far eliminated the drought conditions in an area roughly from Illinois eastward.

But more moisture will be needed in April and May to nurse the winter wheat crop to maturity and aid the soon-to-be-seeded corn and soybean crops.

The heavy snowfall across the U.S. Midwest in late February provided hope to farmers that the 2013 crop season will return to normal after last year's drought, but a top Iowa State University scientist warns the region is not out of the woods.

"The snow is not bad news in the Corn Belt but does not give a sure sign of a shift to great crop weather conditions," Elwynn Taylor, Iowa State University climatologist told Reuters' global chat room. "Almost everything, 85 percent, west of I-35 is still on the dry side."

He was referring to the stretch of farmland from central Iowa westward to Nebraska and north to South Dakota. Those three states produce about a third of the U.S. corn and soybean crops, with Iowa being the top crop state.

Don Keeney, a meteorologist for MDA Earthsat Weather, said that as of early February, about 4 inches (10 cm) to 6 inches (15 cm) of rain was needed in Kansas, the top producer of hard red winter wheat, to bring the state out of drought status.

Up to 8 inches (20 cm) was needed in a pocket of severe dryness in northeastern Kansas, a big corn- and grain sorghum-growing area. Similar amounts were needed in Nebraska, Texas, Oklahoma, Iowa and Missouri and northern Illinois and Indiana.

(Reporting by Sam Nelson; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn)



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