Early corn plantings will be delayed in the drought-stricken U.S. Midwest because of cool temperatures and significant rainfall next week that will also add valuable soil moisture, agricultural meteorologists said on Friday.
They said parts of the Plains hard red winter wheat region will also benefit as dry soils remain a problem in parts of the western and northwestern Midwest and the southwestern Plains following the worst drought in more than 50 years last summer.
The improving conditions are closely monitored by agricultural experts as winter wheat crops emerge after being planted last fall, and farmers are preparing to plant spring crops like corn and soybeans.
"There will be a big storm coming in waves Sunday through Thursday and there will be 100 percent coverage of the Midwest," said Andy Karst, meteorologist for World Weather Inc.
Karst said 0.5 inch to 1.5 inches (1.3 cm to 3.8 cm) of rain would fall in nearly all of the Midwest and in the northern portion of the Plains. Also, heavier rains of up to 3 inches (7.6 cm) or more can be expected in the lower Ohio River Basin.
Warmer temperatures and drier weather expected after next week's storm should allow farmers to begin planting the 2013 corn crop in mostly satisfactory soil moisture conditions in an area roughly east of the Kansas and Nebraska border.
Drought conditions are retreating slowly in the U.S. Plains, according to a report issued Thursday by a consortium of state and federal climatologists.
Don Keeney, meteorologist for MDA Weather Services said that at the end of March, 6 inches to 8 inches (15 cm to 20 cm) of rain were needed to bring soil moisture levels back to normal in much of Nebraska and a corner of northeast Kansas, while 2 inches to 4 inches (5 cm to 10 cm) were needed in the balance of the central Plains and western Iowa.
Commodity Weather Group on Friday said Plains wheat would benefit from next week's showers, but the southwestern third of the belt is not likely to see much rain and remain under drought stress.
The "Drought Monitor" report, which tracks the U.S. land area stricken by drought on a weekly basis, said the Plains, which has been the hardest hit, was seeing improvement thanks to rains and snow in the past two months.
(Additional reporting by Carey Gillam in Kansas City; Editing by Grant McCool)