U.S. crops limping into autumn as drought lingers

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Now is the summer of farmers' discontent; their crops are limping into autumn as the worst drought in more than a half century lingers in the U.S. Midwest and Plains.

And they're bracing for the worst. On Friday the U.S. Agriculture Department will release its highly anticipated crop report, which was widely expected to show sharp drops for corn and soybeans.

On the weather front, modest amounts of rainfall in portions of the Midwest this week will provide only minimal relief from drought, an agricultural meteorologist said Thursday.

"There will be some improvement, the cooler temperatures certainly will help. But most of the Midwest has not had enough rain for significant improvement," said Andy Karst, meteorologist for World Weather Inc.

"Crops may stabilize or decline a little more the next couple of weeks," he added.

Rainfall this week totaled 0.25 to 1.00 inch and was scattered over about half of the Midwest, but only about 25 percent received the heavier amount.

"There will be better rains today in the eastern Corn Belt, and the good news is that high temperatures the next couple of weeks will be in the 70s to 80s degrees Fahrenheit rather than 100 F," Karst said.

But "certainly no drought busting rains," he stressed.

Another round of modest showers were forecast for next week that will mimic the occasional downpours of the past couple of days, Karst said.

Commodity Weather Group (CWG) on Thursday said the Midwest should be slightly wetter and cooler for the next two weeks, but soybeans in the U.S. Delta, a lush crop region near the lower Mississippi Valley, would be drier for the next 10 days.

That dryness would add stress to an already struggling soybean crop.

"Shower potential has become more limited in the next 10 days in the Delta. This will pose the greatest threat to double-crop soybeans in areas of Arkansas and bordering sections of Tennessee and Mississippi," said CWG meteorologist Joel Widenor.

Chicago Board of Trade corn futures soared Thursday, with bellwether new-crop December corn setting a life of contract high of $8.26-1/2 per bushel as investors bought, bracing for government and private projections of sharp declines in domestic crop prospects.

Soybean prices were up too, and the wheat market was nearly mirroring the gains in corn and soy.

Corn prices soared to a record $8.28-3/4 per bushel in late July as it became apparent there would be a significant shortfall of corn output. The smallest crop in 5 years is expected despite early plantings of the largest acreage in 75 years.

USDA on Friday will release its August crop report and traders were getting prepared for another bull run in prices.

Domestic corn inventories could fall to a 17-year low next summer following this year's harvest, and soybean supplies could drop to their lowest in 32 years as drought continues to trim production prospects.

Soybean conditions began to stabilize last week on improved weather in a broad swath of the Midwest, while corn conditions declined again. Still, the ratings for both remained the worst since 1988. (Editing by John Picinich)



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