Corn futures staged a late rally to close slightly higher after spending most the day on the defensive. Strong weekly export sales of 84.9 million bushels and a return to dry weather in Argentina provided fundamental support. March corn was 1/2 cent higher at $2.17 and May closed up 3/4 of a cent at $2.26 3/4.

Soybean futures were higher on the close Thursday. A return to warm, dry weather in Argentina and speculative buying support offset bearish fundamental news. Weekly export sales were disappointing at 19.2 million bushels and the December crush dipped a million bushels below trade estimates. March soybeans closed 6 cents higher at $5.73 and May was up 6 1/2 cents at $5.84 1/2.

Wheat futures were higher Thursday finding strong support from weather concerns and a report that Iraq is looking to buy up to a million metric tons of wheat. Forecasts for lower production in the Former Soviet Union were also supportive. CBOT March was up 2 1/2 cents higher at $3.44 1/2, KCBT March was 4 1/2 cents higher at $3.95 1/2 and MGE March was up 2 1/2 cents at $3.99 1/4.

Cattle futures were mixed on the close Thursday after a two-sided trading session. Weakness in boxed beef cutout values and negative packer margins are contributing to ideas that the cash cattle market is likely to slip lower in early February. The February futures contract was 5 points higher at $94.95 but April was down 22 points at $93.07.

Lean hog futures were mostly higher Thursday as bargain hunting surfaced following the recent steep break. Even though most contracts managed to bounce higher, weak cash prices and the slumping pork cutout value kept pressure on the nearby contract. February was 17 points lower at $57.17 while April was up 17 points at $61.92.