* Corn plants vulnerable to harm due to drought
* Winds, heavy rains may hurt some of the crop
* Arkansas rice farmers raced to harvest ahead of Isaac
By Sam Nelson
CHICAGO, Aug 31 Rain and wind from the remnants of Hurricane Isaac are expected to move into the central U.S. Midwest on Friday and into the weekend, stalling crop harvests and causing some localized damage, an agricultural meteorologist said.
Isaac continued to cause headaches, bringing heavy rainfall and the threat of flash flooding to the lower Mississippi Valley as Gulf Coast residents prepared to start their cleanup efforts.
Before Isaac slammed into the U.S. Gulf Coast on Wednesday, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) said 6 percent of the country's corn crop had been harvested and 8 percent of the soybean crop was dropping leaves, ready for harvest.
"Certainly it will slow harvest and some of the corn crop could be hurt. The stalks are fragile and brittle," Don Keeney, meteorologist for MDA EarthSat Weather, said.
Corn plants already had been weakened and yields slashed by the stress from the worst drought in America's heartland in more than 50 years. Much of the crop was pushed to maturity and is set to be harvested as it is more vulnerable than normal to harm from wind and rain.
Keeney said 2 to 4 inches (5 to 10 cm) of rain with locally heavier amounts could be expected in a broad swath from eastern Missouri through Illinois, Indiana and into Ohio with winds of 10 to 15 miles per hour (16 to 24 km per hour) and heavier gusts.
Rainfall late on Thursday moved into the rice-harvesting region of Arkansas, the largest U.S. rice producer.
"They had heavy rains of 1 to 3 inches or more in the central and south and that has moved north now. There was some damage but I don't think there were any major catastrophic losses," Keeney said.
Rain from the lumbering hurricane moved across the lush crop region of the U.S. Deep South, known as the Delta, into the central Midwest.
Large soybean, cotton and rice crops are grown in the South, while corn and soybeans are produced in the Midwest.
Before the storm hit, the Louisiana soybean harvest was 18 percent complete, Mississippi's 9 percent and Arkansas' 8 percent, according to U.S. government crop reports.
Arkansas farmers were harvesting at a breakneck pace on Thursday in an attempt to gather as much as possible before the storm blanketed their mature crop.
Crop experts and farmers said the rice heads were heavy and full of grain, leaving the crop vulnerable to harm if it blew over and rendering it difficult or impossible to harvest.
(Editing by Dale Hudson)