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Stunted corn grows next to a cattle feed lot in Springfield, rural Omaha, Neb. on Tuesday. The drought gripping the United States is the widest since 1956.Nati Harnik/The Associated Press

Hot, dry weather for the next two weeks will continue to stress corn and soybean crops in the western and northern U.S. Midwest, although improving odds for rainfall in the east offered some hope to struggling soybeans, meteorologists said on Tuesday.

"The rains will be too late for corn but it will help soybeans. We see upwards of an inch to 1-1/2 inches (3.8 centimetres) [of rain] this week and again next week for Indiana, Ohio and Kentucky," said Don Keeney, meteorologist for MDA EarthSat Weather.

A midday run of the weather forecasting models boosted expectations for rain in the middle of next week, said Jason Nicholls, meteorologist for AccuWeather. The new forecast calls for rain of 0.2 to 0.7 inch around the region, up from earlier outlooks of 0.1 to 0.6 inch.

"The front for Wednesday and Thursday of next week looks slightly wetter, (but) not a drought-buster," Mr. Nicholls said.

Grain prices pared gains after the new forecasts, with November soybeans turning lower after marking a session record high of more than $16 (U.S.) per bushel. Corn prices, which came within a whisker of their nearly $8 all-time peak, was marginally higher.

However, the drought is spreading into the western and northwestern crop belt, leading to further stress and more crop losses.

Mr. Keeney said hot, dry weather would remain the norm for the next two weeks in Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska, Minnesota, the Dakotas and southern Wisconsin.

"Temperatures will get up to 100 [degrees Fahrenheit] (37.8C) today in Chicago and 102 in St. Louis," he said. Cooler temperatures in the 80s and 90s are expected by the weekend, but hotter weather is likely to return next week.

The expanding drought, now considered the worst in more than a half century, punished the U.S. corn crop last week.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture, in its weekly crop progress report on Monday, said just 31 per cent of the corn crop was in good to excellent shape, down from 40 per cent a week earlier and below analysts' average estimate of 35 per cent.

Soybean conditions fell to 34 per cent from 40 per cent in the good to excellent category, below estimates for 35 per cent.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said in a report on Monday that based on the Palmer Drought Index, 55 per cent 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.

Commodity Weather Group on Tuesday said more than half of the Midwest would continue to experience severe moisture deficits and plenty of heat, particularly in the western corn belt.

"Late pollinating and filling corn and pod-setting soybeans will see yields fall further," said CWG meteorologist Joel Widenor.

"Showers may scatter into the south and east Midwest, but relief for the belt as a whole would still be limited."

Chicago Board of Trade corn prices have soared more than 40 per cent in only six weeks as crop prospects have plunged.

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