* Spotty rains in US provide only minimal relief
* Western Midwest hot and dry for another week
* Corn and soybean crops continue to deteriorate
* Analysts lower crop estimates
By Sam Nelson
CHICAGO, July 18 (Reuters) - It keeps getting worse for the U.S. Midwest, whose corn and soybean crops are deteriorating fast from the harshest drought in more than half a century.
The weather will remain hot and dry for the next week in the western Midwest, though cooler temperatures and light rain in its east may provide some relief from relentless drought, an agricultural meteorologist said Wednesday.
“There’s not much change in the forecasts this morning, maybe a little more rain next week, but that’s not certain,” said Andy Karst, meteorologist for World Weather Inc.
Temperatures in the 90s to low 100s degrees Fahrenheit will blanket western Midwest states such as Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, Missouri and Kansas, Karst predicted. That will put even more stress on crops already deteriorating rapidly from the worst drought in 56 years.
“There are no soaking rains in sight, nothing to relieve the drought,” he said.
An isolated thunderstorm overnight Tuesday left up to 1.50 inches of rain in the Aberdeen, South Dakota area, and the rains extended into portions of western Minnesota.
“There will be some light rains today through Friday in the eastern Midwest of maybe a half inch or less with locally heavier amounts,” Karst said.
However, updated forecasts on Wednesday indicated nothing in sight that would stem overall deterioration of the corn and soy crops.
Commodity Weather Group (CWG) on Wednesday said more than half of the Midwest’s corn and soybean growing area will keep encountering the most severe stress over the next 10 days due to continued dryness in the central and southwestern Midwest.
U.S. corn production has shrunk 7 percent from the government’s downgraded estimate of a week ago, a Reuters poll projected on Tuesday, with a worsening drought expected to cause even more damage before the month is out.
With this worst drought since 1956 beginning to expand to the northern and western Midwest, areas that had previously been spared, analysts were slashing corn yield estimates by the hour. Some were also starting to cut their forecasts on the number of acres that will be harvested as farmers opt to plow under some of their parched fields to claim insurance.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), in its weekly crop progress report issued on Monday, said that just 31 percent of the corn crop was in good to excellent shape, down from 40 percent a week earlier and below analysts’ average estimate of 35 percent.
Soybean conditions fell to 34 percent from 40 percent in the good to excellent category, likewise below estimates for 35 percent.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said in a report on Monday that, based on the Palmer Drought Index, 55 percent of the contiguous United States was under moderate to extreme drought in June. That is the largest land area in the United States to be affected by a drought since December 1956.
Chicago Board of Trade corn prices have soared more than 40 percent in only six weeks as crop prospects have plunged.
Reporting By Sam Nelson; Editing by John Picinich