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US spring wheat slips to worst on record, as Idaho succumbs

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The drought-hit US spring wheat crop has deteriorated to its worst since at least 1994, as Idaho too succumbed to high temperatures – even as Midwest soybeans showed unexpected improvement.

The US Department of Agriculture rated at 31% the proportion of US spring wheat rated in "good" or "excellent" condition as of Sunday, a drop of 2 points week on week.

That was the lowest reading for a spring wheat crop on data going back to 1995, falling below 32% figures recorded late in the 2006 growing season.

The latest decline reflected in part a further 3-point drop, to 29%, in the proportion of spring wheat rated good or excellent in North Dakota, typically responsible for half US output.

However, it also reflected this time a 10-point decline to 53% good or excellent in the reading in Idaho, where the crop had held out pretty well.

'Abnormally hot week'

USDA scouts in Idaho noted that some parts of the state saw temperatures 7 degrees Farhrenheit above normal last week, with "a high temperature of 101 degrees Fahrenheit reported in the south west and northern regions.

Spring wheat rating, July 31, in top growing states, (change on week)

Minnesota: 87%, (+3 points)

Idaho: 53%, (-10 points)

Washington: 43%, (+3 points)

North Dakota: 29%, (-3 points)

Montana: 9%, (-4 points)

South Dakota: 8%, (unchanged)

US average: 31%, (-2 points)

Data show % of crop rated in good or excellent condition. Source: USDA

"The northern region had an abnormally hot week.

"The heat matured wheat and barley to harvest-ready conditions."

'Isn't very good timing'

Indeed, the rapid crop maturation encouraged by the hot and dry weather has curtailed hopes for relief for crops from rain expected this week.

The northern Plains, along with the Midwest, ""will see rain Tuesday and Wednesday", along with the Midwest, said Terry Reilly at broker Futures International.

"Total rainfall by Friday will be greatest from the eastern Dakotas to Michigan, with mostly 1.0-2.0 inches, locally over 3.0 inches."

But "the much wetter weather for spring wheat areas isn't very good timing for what I would expect to be a significant ramping up of harvest progress", said Minneapolis-based broker Benson Quinn Commodities.

While 9% of US spring wheat had been harvested as of Sunday, bang in line with the average pace, the figure disguised a large gap in progress between that in South Dakota, where crop has been worst affected by drought, and that in Minnesota, where spring wheat is thriving.

The 15% of South Dakota crop harvested was 15 points ahead of the average pace, while the 3% progress in Minnesota represented a lag of 11 points.

'Dryness and cooler temperatures'

By contrast, the USDA data showed the condition of the US soybean crop – still a while away from being ready for harvest, and grown mainly in the Midwest – showing a surprise improvement last week, of 2 points to 59% rated good or excellent.

Soybean rating, July 31, in selected states, (change on week)

Mississippi: 69%, (+7 points)

Illinois: 66%, (+7 points)

Iowa: 60%, (-2 points)

Indiana: 51%, (+4 points)

North Dakota: 34%, (-7 points)

South Dakota: 28%, (+3 points)

US average: 59%, (+2 points)

Data show % of crop rated in good or excellent condition. Source: USDA

In neighbouring Indiana, another major grower, the figure rose by 4 points to 51%, as a "relatively dry week and cooler temperatures allowed both the corn and soybean conditions to improve", according to USDA scouts.

Cotton questions

For cotton, the good or excellent reading rose by 1 point to 56% - down largely to an 8-point recovery, to 43%, in the rating for the Alabama crop.

But this followed an 18-point slump in the rating the previous week, raising some investors questions over the volatility in the data.

The reading for Texas, typically responsible for well over half the US cotton harvest, eased by 1 point to 44%.

USDA scouts flagged a wide range of difference in crop development in different parts of the state, ranging from squaring to blooming to pre-harvest defoliation.

"Cotton fields were sprayed for flea hoppers in the Northern Low Plains," they added.

By Mike Verdin

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