Prospects for a recovery in US soybeans are limited, farm officials said, even as they revealed their first uprating of the crop's condition so far this season, assessing that corn has stabilised too after two months of decline.
The US Department of Agriculture rated 30% of the domestic soybean crop in "good" or "excellent" condition, as of Sunday, up one point over the week, and boosted by a pick-up in rains following the hottest July on record.
The rise was the first for the season since officials started publishing soybean condition ratings in early June, as Midwest dryness began to take its toll on the crop, which was initially assessed at 65% good or excellent.
In the latest week, the condition of corn stabilised at 23% good or excellent, after nine weeks of decline, although some continuing deterioration was evident in the proportion of the crop seen "poor" or "very poor", which edged one point higher to 26%.
However, the USDA, which on Friday slashed its forecast for the soybean yield this year to 36.1 bushels per acre, from 40.5 bushels per acre, cautioned over the degree to which the soybean crop could yet recover, even with improved crop conditions, which forecasters believe are on the way.
"Severe moisture deficits are causing soybean plants to abort blossoms that would later develop into pods," the department said.
"Every day that the rains are delayed shortens the period in which pods can form and the beans in them can grow.
While a "good rainfall could still help existing pods to fill", yield damage "may be irreversible as a stressed soybean plant seldom adds on much more new flowering or pods".
Some 81% of soybeans are setting pods as of Sunday, up from an average of 67% at this time of year, with all but 3% flowering or having already flowered.
'Worse than 1988'
Indeed, the condition of the soybean crop, as measured in "poor" or "very poor", at 38%, was only one point below the previous week's figure which represented the highest reading on record.
"These are the worst conditions ever indicated by USDA's data series, which includes the disastrous 1988 drought," the department said.
It added that "some soybean fields with very poor expected yields are unlikely to be harvested this year", noting those set to yield less than 10 bushels per acre "can be cut for hay and used as forage for cattle".
'Welcomed rain showers'
The slight improvement over the week in the condition of soybeans, and the stabilisation in corn, reflected some improvement in the weather in Illinois and Iowa, the top two producing states in both crops.
In Illinois, "temperatures moderated somewhat compared to previous weeks", falling below average levels, although rainfall "once again fell below average", USDA scouts said.
Iowa "saw a mix of cooler temperatures and widespread rainfall during the week".
Further east in Indiana, "welcomed rain showers and cooler temperatures during the week brought some relief to both crops and livestock.
"Soybeans, hay crops and pastures are expected to benefit the most from the recent precipitation, and it should also help with grain weight in some of the latest planted corn."
'Chopped for silage'
South eastern states, such as Louisiana and Mississippi also saw dramatic improvements in the condition of their soybean crops, a jump which extended as far as Ohio, where "multiple rain storms and cooler temperatures reduced stress on crops and livestock".
However, to the north and west, the major producing state of Nebraska saw a continuing decline in the ratings of both its corn and soybean crops.
"Temperatures moderated. However, with only limited precipitation, crop conditions continued to decline," USDA field staff said.
"Drought damaged corn fields continue to be chopped for silage or baled for hay."