Wet weather stalls U.S. corn seedings but eases drought stress

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Wet and cold weather in the U.S. Midwest this week will further slow corn plantings while adding valuable soil moisture to drought-stricken regions, an agricultural meteorologist said on Monday.

"It will continue cold and wet, with 0.3 inch up to an inch (0.8 to 2.5 cm) of rain beginning late Monday and continuing into Wednesday in the Plains and in the Midwest with nearly 100 percent coverage," said John Dee, meteorologist for Global Weather Monitoring.

The worst U.S. drought in more than 50 years has quickly been replaced be heavy rainfall and flooding on many streams and rivers, boosting prospects for crop production but also stalling early seedings of the 2013 corn crop.

"Many areas had up to 4.0 to 6.0 inches of rain last week so there is some flooding now," Dee said. "Certainly there is no concern now about drought, at least for the short term."

Dee said the drought-stricken region of southwestern Kansas and the Panhandles of Oklahoma and Texas would remain dry so "there will be little benefit to them."

Cold weather, including snow, will cover the northern Plains spring wheat region this week, he said. Snowfall of 4.0 to 8.0 inches is expected over the next 24 hours in the northern Midwest, including Minnesota and possibly northwest Iowa, according to Dee.

Cold temperatures in the 20s (degrees Fahrenheit) are expected in the Plains winter wheat region early Tuesday and Wednesday, which may cause additional harm to the crop, he said.

"It will be warmer, with not as much precipitation next week, so there will be some improvement for fieldwork," Dee said.

The turn to excessive wet weather has caused U.S. farmers to fall behind their average pace for planting the spring corn crop. There is still plenty of time to plant it and realize satisfactory yields, but producers are growing nervous with each passing day.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture said on April 15 that 2 percent of the U.S. corn crop had been planted, below last year's 16 percent seeding pace and below the 7 percent five-year average.

The USDA will release a new weekly planting progress report late on Monday, but it is likely to show little progress last week due to the persistent rainfall and flooding.

The area affected by drought has been rapidly shrinking.

Don Keeney, meteorologist for MDA Weather Services, said that as of April 13, the drought had ended in roughly the eastern two-thirds of the Midwest, while 2.0 to 4.0 inches of rain were needed in the western states of Nebraska and Kansas to end the drought.

The rainfall over the past two weeks has been substantial and will nearly eliminate the drought in the U.S. crop belt, but too much rain is now causing flooding and river transport problems.

Drought conditions eased after storms moved across the central United States and the U.S. Plains in the past week, bringing much-needed moisture to some of the driest areas of the country, according to a report released Thursday by state and federal climatologists.

The Drought Monitor report, which tracks soil moisture on a weekly basis, said the Plains - the region hardest hit by the drought of 2012 - was getting some relief from the drought. As of Tuesday, 73 percent of the region was in severe to exceptional drought, down from 81 percent a week earlier.

(Additional reporting by Christine Stebbins in Chicago; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn)



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