Drought still stressing US crops despite showers

Wed Jul 25, 2012 6:18pm IST

* Drought relief in north and east US Midwest

* Crops still baking in southwest Midwest

* Corn yields projected at 10-year low

By Sam Nelson

CHICAGO, July 25 (Reuters) - Rainfall this week and more rain for the next 10 days will boost crop prospects in the northern and eastern U.S. Midwest, but crops in the rest of the growing region will still struggle against extreme heat and drought, an agricultural meteorologist forecast Wednesday.

"There is improvement in the north and east, and we expect more showers today and tomorrow in the west central to northwest," said Don Keeney, meteorologist for MDA EarthSat Weather.

Showers were likely over the weekend in the northwestern Midwest, with accumulations of 0.50 to 0.75 inch and up to 0.25 inch elsewhere.

"Next week there will be above-average rain in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Indiana, Ohio and Kentucky and also rain in east central Illinois," he said.

High temperatures in the 90s degrees Fahrenheit would remain the norm for 10 days in much of the Midwest, with triple-digit readings in the southwest.

Extreme heat will continue to bake crops in the southwestern Midwest, with temperatures soaring above 100 F on Wednesday in St. Louis, Missouri.

"The high today in Chicago will be 98 F then cool to the upper 80s F later in the week through next week," Keeney said.

The most expansive drought in America's breadbasket in more than a half century has slashed corn and soybean crop prospects and boosted prices for each to record highs late last week.

The turn to wetter weather over the weekend led to a sharp selloff of grain prices on Monday and Tuesday, but the market was showing signs of stabilizing on Wednesday because of far from ideal crop weather and as crop experts continued to cut their estimates for this year's corn production.

A Reuters poll on Tuesday indicated corn yields could fall to a 10-year low and corn production may wind up the lowest in six years.

"Monday's crop ratings showed losses on par with the damage seen during the 1988 drought if these conditions persist," said Bryce Knorr, senior editor for Farm Futures Magazine.

That is a far cry from early estimates. Corn production had been projected to hit a record high this year, approaching nearly 15 billion bushels, as U.S. farmers planted the most acreage since the late 1930s to capture profits from the highest corn prices ever.

"Weather so far has taken almost 4 billion bushels off the corn crop, so a lot of demand must still be rationed," Knorr said.

An MDA Earthsat Weather tour of the crops in the Midwest this week showed the devastating effects of drought in the eastern Midwest states of Indiana and Ohio.

In Putnam County, Indiana the crop scouts did not even stop to inspect corn fields because it was assumed the crop was so poor that farmers would plow it under rather than try to harvest nothing.

(Reporting by Sam Nelson; Editing by John Picinich)

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