US dryness fears shift south as wheat sowings near

The southern Plains, the seat of drought in the US last year, revived as a centre for this year too, seeing its crops continue to deteriorate even as those in much of the Midwest improved and ahead of the important wheat sowing period.

The US Department of Agriculture, for a third week, rated domestic corn as 23% in "good" or "excellent" health, showing no further deterioration towards the levels of 1988, the last year drought caused such devastation to US crops.

Soybeans were rated at 31% in good or excellent health as of Sunday, an increase of 1 point on the week, if still the worst figure since 1988, and an improvement at the bottom end of market expectations.

Reports of poor yields, below even USDA expectations, were revealed on Monday on the first day of the ProFarmer tour of major US row crop areas.

'Continued to deteriorate'

However, the overall USDA crop condition data concealed a difference in experience between states - crops in parts of the southern Plains continued to deteriorate, even as those in much of the Midwest improved.

Kansas crop ratings, August 19 and (change on week)

Corn: 5%, (-3 points)

Cotton: 25%, (-4 points)

Pasture: 0%, (-1 point)

Sorghum: 6%, (-2 points)

Soybeans: 3%, (-2 points)

Sunflowers: 9%, (-3 points)

Source: USDA. Data for percentage rated good or excellent
While some of the Plains state of Oklahoma received rainfall last week, more than half did not and overall the rains "provided no significant improvements to conditions", USDA officials said.

"Concerns about aflatoxin in corn were reported," they added, a reference to a fungal residue commonly found in crops stressed by drought.

In Kansas, "row crop conditions continued to deteriorate last week as the state received only scattered rainfall", they said, cutting their good or excellent ratings of Kansas soybeans by two points to 3%, and of corn by three points to 5%,

"While average temperatures dropped last week, continued lack of precipitation still plagues farmers," the USDA staff said.

'Greened up considerably'

The comments contrasted with those from Midwest states such as Indiana, where rains allowed soybeans to recover by four points to 20% rated good or excellent.

Oklahoma crop ratings, August 19 and (change on week)

Alfalfa: 7%, (-3 points)

Corn: 24%, (-8 points)

Cotton: 9%, (-3 points)

Pasture: 3%, (unchanged)

Sorghum: 12%, (-5 points)

Soybeans: 11%, (unchanged)

Source: USDA. Data for percentage rated good or excellent
"Rain showers helped to improve drought conditions with less than half the state still in extreme-to-exceptional drought conditions compared with nearly 70% on July 31," the USDA said.

"Pastures and hay fields have greened up considerably in the last two weeks.

"Later-planted soybeans are benefitting from the recent rainfall with additional growth and pod fill," besides lower spider mite activity and reduced aflatoxin risk in corn.

'Tight grip of drought'

The concerns over the southern Plains are particularly important since the region is a major winter wheat growing area - Kansas is the top wheat-growing state - and with farmers preparing for sowings, potentially into dry ground.

The USDA warned last week that "prospects in most of the winter wheat area are not good especially in the western winter wheat area of the southern Plains".

At broker RJ O 'Brien, Richard Feltes highlighted data showing the condition of the US sorghum crop continuing to decline, by two points to 23% good or excellent, "underscoring the tight grip of drought in the southern Plains".

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