Forecasters hold out little hope for now of relief for US winter wheat seedlings from the dryness which official data showed continuing to deteriorate, to their worst condition on record.
The proportion of the US winter wheat crop in "good" or "excellent" health fell by three points to 36% last week, the lowest rating for the time of year on data going back to 1985, US Department of Agriculture data showed.
The decline was blamed on continued dryness in areas such as Kansas, the top US wheat-growing state, which is still rated 100% in drought, with freezing temperatures seen as posing a test on some farms too.
And, while some parched areas of the Plains, including eastern Kansas, received rains over the weekend, there are no signs of follow-up precipitation on the immediate horizon.
'Rather tranquil conditions'
Don Keeney, meteorologist for MDA EarthSat Weather, forecast that dry weather would continue for the next fortnight for western areas of the hard red winter areas in the US Plains, where the worst drought since 1956 is lingering.
At WxRisk.com, Dave Tolleris said that "things look pretty quiet over the next five days for all of the Plains and the Midwest", with a high pressure keeping rain away, if with cold temperatures set to stay north of the Canadian border.
And heading into the end of the month, he forecast "rather tranquil conditions for all of the Plains and Midwest" too.
The USDA's crop condition data extended a picture of struggling crops in the hard red winter wheat areas of the Plains, with seedlings in the Midwest, where drought has largely broken, getting soft red winter wheat seedlings off to a better start.
Even in the Midwest state of Illinois, where the proportion of crop rated "good" or "excellent" sank 6 points during the week amid "warmer and drier weather", that still left the rating at a relatively high 72%.
"Topsoil moisture levels have largely recovered from the effects of the drought," with only 18% rated short, USDA scouts said.
'In need of rainfall'
The soil conditions contrast with those in the likes of Colorado, Kansas and Nebraska, of which 100% are rated in drought, and the 85% figure for Texas.
"Low soil moisture delayed seeding activities in some areas and left producers in need of rainfall to complete the seeding process," USDA staff in Texas said in their report for the week to Sunday.
Selected US state winter wheat ratings and (change on week)
Washington: 80%, (+5 points)
Illinois: 72%, (-6 points)
Missouri: 62%, (+8 points)
Kansas: 33%, (-4 points)
Texas: 30%, (-4 points)
Nebraska: 15%, (+2 points)
South Dakota: 3%, (-1 point)
Data: % in good or excellent condition. Source: USDA
"Heat and lack of moisture also impeded the germination and growth of some dry land wheat."
In South Dakota, where only 3% of winter wheat is rated good or excellent, "overall again precipitation was mainly lighter, largely leaving drought conditions unchanged", USDA officials said.
Brian Henry, at broker Benson Quinn Comodities said that South Dakota "has real issues" with its winter wheat crop.