Stormy weather slows U.S. corn seedings, adds soil moisture

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Wet and cold weather in the U.S. crop belt next week will continue to stall spring corn plantings but also will add valuable soil moisture to drought-stricken cropland, an agricultural meteorologist said on Friday.

"There will be a two-day break from rains today and tomorrow, but that's about it," said Don Keeney, meteorologist for MDA Weather Services. "There will be a prolonged period of rain next week, and it will be cold as well."

Keeney said temperatures next week might fall to the 20-to-30-degree Fahrenheit range in the Plains hard red winter wheat region, posing a threat of more freeze damage to the growing crop.

"I don't think it will be cold enough to cause much damage, but we'll have to keep an eye on that," he said. Keeney said warmer and drier weather was expected in the crop belt in May, which should allow farmers to begin planting the 2013 corn crop.

The cold soils and wet weather are slowing corn seedings, but the moisture also is being welcomed by farmers who are trying to recover from the worst drought in over 50 years, which slashed crop output last year.

Early spring storms brought badly needed moisture to parched soils in parts of the U.S. Plains, reducing the area hardest hit by drought in key farm states, according to a climatology report issued Thursday.

Beneficial, soaking rains finally fell on hard-hit Texas, Oklahoma and Nebraska, according to the Drought Monitor report, which is issued weekly by a consortium of government and academic climate scientists and takes into account conditions as of each Tuesday.

The report noted significant improvement in north central, central, and southeastern Texas, but little to no rain was observed in western and extreme southern Texas, allowing drought conditions there to expand.

Keeney said that as of Saturday, 2.0 to 6.0 inches (5 to 15 cm) of precipitation was needed in Kansas to bring soil moisture levels up to normal.

In Nebraska, 6.0 to 8.0 inches was needed in the west, but up to 10.0 inches was needed in most of eastern Nebraska.

Six to 8.0 inches also was needed in a corner of northwest Iowa, while zero to 4.0 inches was needed elsewhere in the state. Normal soil moisture levels were seen in an area roughly from Missouri, Illinois and Wisconsin eastward. (Additional reporting by Carey Gillam in Kansas City; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn)

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