Argentine wheat gets frost, adding to supply jitters
* Exchange says wet ground, timing limits frost damage
* Farmers gripe about gov't wheat policy, plant more soy
* Gov't sees 3.7 mln hectares planted with wheat this year
By Hugh Bronstein
BUENOS AIRES, Sept 27 (Reuters) - Frosts struck wheat fields in grains giant Argentina this week, unsettling growers who already expect a meager harvest this season due to a 20 percent decline in plantings.
It will take several days to judge the impact of the Monday-Wednesday cold snap, however. Exporters are eager to know about Argentina's 2012/13 crop, after droughts in the United States and Russia and dry weather in Australia's western wheat region have squeezed global supply.
"The plants will not start showing the damage for another five to seven days," said Anthony Deane, head of the Weather Wise Argentina consultancy. "It's a slow process for them to start drying up and dying."
Argentina is the world's No. 6 wheat exporter, No. 3 soybean supplier and No. 2 provider of corn after the United States.
The biggest risk posed by the cold is seen on higher ground in southwestern and southeastern Buenos Aires province, Deane added, while the central part of the province is still coping with floods caused by last month's unusually heavy rains.
The Buenos Aires Grains Exchange played down the threat.
"The week started with cool temperatures, but winds from the north quickly returned, causing a temperature increase to higher-than-normal levels," it said in a weekly report.
The government says 3.7 million hectares of wheat were planted this year, down about 20 percent from last season.
Growers say government trade policies deter wheat sowing, and plantings have fallen in recent years. Cultivation of soy, which is not subject to the export curbs that the government imposes on wheat and corn, has grown substantially.
Argentine farmers finished their 2012/13 wheat sowing last month. Most fields are still not in their flowering stage, during which wheat plants are most vulnerable to the cold.
"The frost that sometimes comes in early November is more dangerous," said grower Alvaro Tomas from his farm in Carlos Casares in Buenos Aires province.
Buenos Aires Grains Exchange said moist soils should help reduce the potential impact.
"It's very early to gauge the impact ... but we can say that in Buenos Aires province, where most of Argentina's wheat crop is sown, plants are not yet in their most vulnerable period of development," it said.
Expectations of ample showers related to the El Nino phenomenon are meanwhile raising hope of a bumper soy and corn harvest after a dry 2011/12 season in Argentina, where the government taxes soy exports at 35 percent but does not limit the amount allowed to be shipped.
Soy planting in the country starts next month.
Farmers have gotten 9.6 percent of their 2012/13 corn into the ground, marking progress of 4.6 percentage points over the last week but lagging the previous season's tempo by 12 percentage points, the exchange said.
It kept its estimate for this season's commercial-use corn plantings at 3.4 million hectares.
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