Rain-hit US wheat harvest 'slowest on record'

Continuing US rains have entrenched the divide in fortunes between corn and soybean growers, looking ever more likely to reap bumper crops, and wheat farmers suffering their slowest harvest on record of spring crop.

The US Department of Agriculture, in a weekly report, raised by 1 point to 74% the proportion of the US corn crop viewed as in "good" or "excellent" condition, and by 2 points to 72% the rating on soybeans.

The upgrades, to levels which are by far the strongest on data going back to 1995, are unusual at a time of year when crops are typically deteriorating.

"It is very late in the game for that [improvement] to be happening," said Brian Henry at broker Benson Quinn Commodities.

And they enhanced expectations for record US corn and soybean crops, with Chicago-based Futures International saying the data had prompted it to raise its forecast for production of the grain to 14.280bn bushels, on a yield of 170.8 bushels per acre.

For soybeans, the harvest estimate was lifted to 3.880bn bushels, on a yield of 46.2 bushels per acre, also forecasts above USDA expectations.

'Slowest pace on record'

The condition improvement reflected wet, and largely warmer, conditions, which USDA scouts in Wisconsin, for instance, said had "boosted corn development".

In Indiana, scouts said that while "flooding and crop damage remains for some regions of the state, overall the added moisture is helping to finish out crops", if raising somewhat disease concerns.

However, the rainfall proved a setback to farmers attempting their spring wheat harvest, which was only 38% complete as of Sunday, up 11 points week on week but behind the 65% usually finished by now.

That is the "slowest pace on record", Mr Henry said, falling behind the progress of the unusually-slow harvest in 2009, another year marked by unusually wet conditions.

Condition damage

The rainfall also took a toll on the condition of spring wheat, which fell by 3 points to 63% rated good or excellent.

In North Dakota, the top spring wheat growing state, scouts said that while "moisture was needed for row crop development, it was beginning to have a negative impact on unharvested small grain crop".

In Idaho, where just 30% of spring wheat is rated good or excellent, down 7 points week on week, "barley and spring wheat conditions have been negatively affected because of excessive rain conditions".

The proportion of Idaho barley rated good or excellent tumbled 10 points to 31%, leading a decline of 4 points to 52% in the national rating.

Price impact

The USDA data were viewed by Richard Feltes, at broker RJ O'Brien as "bearish row crops and supportive to small grains" in price terms.

However, Minneapolis spring wheat futures for December lost early gains to stand 0.7% down at $6.18 a bushel at 04:20 local time (10:20 UK time) with the wheat complex undermined by news of Russia and Ukraine agreeing a ceasefire in eastern Ukraine.

Chicago wheat for December was down 1.5% at $5.46 a bushel, while soybeans for November were 1.0% lower at $10.21 a bushel, and December corn down 1.3% at $3.59 a bushel.

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