Just who is right about Australia's wheat prospects?
Is the harvest coming in abundantly, and in good quality, as some grain merchants and analysts seem to be saying?
Or has it suffered the drought and frost damage that Commonwealth Bank of Australia highlighted on Wednesday, cutting it harvest forecast to 23.6m tonnes?
The downgrade took the range of analysts' estimates to 23.6-26.7m tonnes, an unusually wide gap so late in the season when combines are already rolling.
'Poor yields, higher protein'
The market seems to be siding with CBA.
January east coast wheat futures stood up 2.3% at Aus$285.50 a tonne in late deals in Sydney.
Indeed, Luke Mathews at Commonwealth Bank of Australia flagged "further reports of frost damage in the southern Riverina," in New South Wales, "and northern Victoria".
"Our downward revision to Australian wheat output yesterday seems to have attracted the interest of global grain traders," he added.
Cargill's Australian grain handler, AWB, added its tuppenceworth, saying that "with harvest well underway Southern Queensland and Northern New South Wales, farmers are dealing with poor yields and higher protein.
"However the majority of Australia's wheat belt looks promising."
'Plagued with weather concerns'
Whatever, the resilience in Sydney prices was a support to those in Chicago, where December wheat stood 0.7% higher at $7.06 ½ a bushel at 08:15 UK time (02:15 Chicago time), setting course for what would be a third successive positive session.
As well as Australia, "the Black Sea region and Argentina are plagued with weather concerns, spurring fears about the adverse impact on output," Joyce Liu at Phillip Futures said.
"This can potentially shift more wheat demand to the US market, driving up Chicago wheat prices," as well as those in Kansas City, where the hard red winter wheat in demand by some buyers, such as Brazil, is traded.
Kansas wheat for December was 0.6% up at $7.75 a bushel.
CHS Hedging, also noting "Australian dryness, a possible Argentine freeze and wet weather in the wheat areas of Brazil" said that "the US export programme looks to have a few more chances to do some business as price and logistics seem to favour US origins at the moment".
That said, there is also further talk about India dropping its prices.
'Getting more competitive'
The rise in wheat prices also helped those of corn, whose discount to its fellow grain is already historically high, a reflection of ideas of a record US harvest.
However, corn is also getting some support from its own fundamentals, including a jump in US ethanol production last week to 897,000 barrels a day, a rise of 28,000 barrels a day, and the highest figure since June last year.
Furthermore, on export markets, "US corn prices appear to be getting more competitive in recent days, a combination of flat price as well as logistics have driven this narrowing process," CHS said.
Benson Quinn Commodities said: "The premium for US origin corn continues to narrow in versus other origins for shipment in the new year."
Still, with harvest in progress, and ramping up in some areas as farmers switch from soybeans after getting all of that crop in the barn, gains were limited to 0.3%, taking the December contract to $4.44 a bushel.
That was behind soybeans, which gained 0.4% to $13.15 ½ a bushel for November delivery, helped in part by continued comment on the US Department of Agriculture announcement on Wednesday that Russia had bought 120,000 tonnes of the oilseed from the US.
"This is the largest single purchase of US soybeans by Russia in over 10 years," one US broker said.
Benson Quinn Commodities said: "Russia is a net importer of soybeans, but not a major importer.
And given that, "they haven't typically bought reportable amounts from the US, this purchase is likely a response to difficulties in getting Brazilian soybeans shipped and a general lack of access to Argentine supplies".
CHS Hedging added that, in soymeal, with South American supplies "appearing to be tapped out, the US meal export programme benefits.
Indeed, US soybean crush margins "remain very good while buyers scramble to purchase the soybeans", a factor which has also been reflected in resilient cash prices.
Soymeal itself was 0.6% higher at $424.00 a short ton in Chicago for December delivery, helped by a 0.7% rose to 3,623 yuan a tonne in prices on China's Dalian exchange in late deals, for January.
Direction later may depend on us export sales data for the week ending October 3 expected to come in at 850,000-1.05m tonnes for soybeans.
For corn, a figure of 650,000-850,000 tonnes is expected, and for wheat one of 600,000-850,000 tonnes.
Key cotton levels
Among soft commodities, raw sugar for March dropped 0.7% to 19.15 cents a pound in New York, on continued profit-taking, with the market getting more comfortable, if not completely comfortable, with the impact of the fire at the Copersucar terminal in the Brazilian port of Santos.
Still despite declines this week, prices remain more than 1% above levels last Thursday, ie before the Santos port fire, CBA's Luke Mathews noted.
Cotton for December dropped 0.3% to an eight-month low of 80.42 cents a pound, and this despite some positive data from China, the top consumer of the fibre, where HSBC's "flash" survey of China's manufacturing sector beat expectations, rising to a seven-month high of 50.9, from 50.2 last month.
Any number above 50.0 indicates expansion.
"Last night's close was the first below the 82 cent support level in over eight months for the December contract," Mr Mathews noted.
"The bulls will now be looking for support around 80 cents, and a breach of this level could pave the way for further falls toward 75 cents."
Some improvement in the condition of the US crop has also been weighing on prices.