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The Globe and Mail

Parched U.S. crops get rain, but more needed soon

Rain in the U.S. Midwest came too late for this field of parched and shrivelled corn near Paris, Missouri.


Rainfall across the northern U.S. Midwest over the next 10 days will provide some relief for the drought-stricken corn and soybean crops, but more rain is needed to stem further crop losses, agricultural meteorologists said on Tuesday.

Rains from central Minnesota eastward to the northern regions of Illinois, Indiana and Ohio since late Monday through midday Tuesday averaged 0.75 inch to 1.25 inch (2 to 3 centimetres), said Joel Widenor, an agricultural forecaster with Commodity Weather Group. Heavier amounts of up to 2 inches fell in central and southeastern Minnesota.

The midday U.S. weather outlook turned a little drier for this week, with 60 to 65 per cent of the Midwest expected to get rain versus 80 per cent in an earlier run, Mr. Widenor said. The six to 10-day model run was the same, continuing to show "extensive" rains for the Midwest, but the 11-15 day outlook was drier for the central and northeastern Midwest.

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"We will still pull some thundershowers out of the Central Plains on Thursday and bring them through northern Missouri out towards central Illinois, Indiana and Ohio by late Thursday into Friday," said Mr. Widenor, noting that more rain is needed to eliminate Midwest dryness.

U.S. crops are suffering from the worst drought in more than 50 years, which is raising worries about the world's largest food exporter's ability to meet the needs of food processors, livestock producers and ethanol makers. The lack of rain was also drying up waterways and slowing river shipments of commodities to export ports on the Gulf of Mexico.

The day's rains and the outlook for more showers this week eased some concerns about crop output and triggered a big sell-off in Chicago Board of Trade markets on Tuesday. Both corn and soybeans fell the maximum daily trading limit after setting record highs last week.

"There's a better chance of rain from Minnesota into Michigan and into the eastern Ohio River Valley," Jason Nicholls, meteorologist for AccuWeather, said of the outlook for the next 10 days.

But it will remain too dry in an area extending from Iowa to central Illinois and back into Missouri and Kansas.

An early morning storm with wind gusts from 60 mph to 65 mph (95 to 105 km/h) rolled into Chicago early Tuesday, leaving 0.50 to 0.60 inch of rain with slightly heavier amounts in some areas, Mr. Nicholls said.

Temperatures will remain in the 80s to 90s (26 to 35C) for the next two days, followed by a cooler trend, only to heat up again next week into the 90s to triple digits, he predicted.

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Near relentless drought and extreme heat have led to a rapid deterioration of America's corn crop that had been projected to be a record this year. Soybean plants have likewise suffered.

Corn conditions deteriorated for the seventh week in a row, down to 26 per cent rated good to excellent – the lowest they have been since 1988, the last big U.S. drought, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said late Monday in its weekly crop report. Farmers in the top crop states of Illinois and Iowa were chopping corn, originally intended for grain, for silage feed, according to state reports.

USDA also dropped its rating of the soybean crop for the fourth straight week, with 31 per cent of the crop rated good to excellent. The biggest drops were in Illinois, Iowa and Kansas.

Recent rains come too late to help the early planted corn that already had pollinated during the height of the hot weather and dryness, crop specialists say, but late-planted corn and a good chunk of the nation's soybean crop will find relief this week.

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