Frost might bite Argentine wheat, more rain in store
* Cold snap could hurt developing wheat crops * Argentina is a top world soy, corn, wheat supplier * Buenos Aires rains cause some flooding, more showers seen By Hugh Bronstein BUENOS AIRES, Sept 25 (Reuters) - A cold snap in grains powerhouse Argentina could cause frost damage to wheat plants as they enter key growth stages, but the outlook remains bright due to forecasts for further rain, weather specialists said on Tuesday. Expectations for ample showers related to the El Nino phenomenon are raising farmers' hopes for a bumper harvest after a dry 2011/12 season in Argentina, the world's No. 6 wheat exporter, the No. 3 soybean provider and the second-biggest corn supplier. Wheat growers, however, who finished planting their 2012/13 crops last month, will be keeping a close eye on a cold spell that began on Monday and is expected to last until Thursday. "The thing to watch this week are the frosts," said Leonardo De Benedictis, weather expert at farm consultancy Clima Campo. "Unseasonably cold air is prevalent throughout the country, coming at a delicate time for wheat, which is in its growing stage. This can cause difficulties, but it shouldn't be anything catastrophic," De Benedictis said. He said he sees a less-severe cold front coming to Argentina on Sunday, bringing storms to the Pampas. "This will help maintain the good soil moisture that already exists in the central part of the farm belt," De Benedictis added. The Argentine government says 3.7 million hectares of wheat were planted this year, down about 20 percent from last season. Farmers say government trade policies deter wheat sowing, and plantings have fallen in recent years. Argentine grain supply flow is of interest to exporters such as Cargill Inc, Bunge Ltd and Noble Group Ltd , which operate gigantic terminals along the Parana River, leading to the shipping lanes of the South Atlantic. An El Nino event is likely to develop this month and next, affecting global climate patterns, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) said on Tuesday. The phenomenon, characterized by unusually warm ocean temperatures in the tropical Pacific, tends to bring rain to Argentina's central agricultural belt while causing dryness in Australia and parts of Asia. It's opposite, La Nina, causes a cooling of waters and makes for dry Argentine crop weather. Heavy rains in August and this month soaked wheat plots and flooded some parts of top producer Buenos Aires province. "There has been flooding of varying severity in central and southeastern Buenos Aires, which has delayed some corn planting. But that is being made up for," said Tomas Parenti, an agronomist at the Rosario grains exchange. As of last week, about 5 percent of 2012/13 corn had been planted, according to the Buenos Aires Gains Exchange, with soy expected to start going into the ground next month. "Wheat is growing well and conditions are very good for soy planting, which will start in mid-October. Conditions are set for high yields," Parenti said. "An overabundance of rain is better, in terms of farm production, than drought scenarios." The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) forecasts Argentine 2012/13 corn output at 28 million tonnes, up from last season's 21 million tonnes. Although the Argentine government has not formally estimated production, a senior official said it could exceed 26 million tonnes.
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