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Dryness in western Argentine wheat belt sparks worry about yields

By Maximilian Heath

BUENOS AIRES, Sept 9 (Reuters) - Argentina's wheat crop could be damaged by dryness in the western part of the country's farm belt if rains do not appear over the weeks ahead in time for key development stages, local climate specialists said on Monday.

Argentina is a key global wheat supplier. According to government estimates, it could reach a record harvest of 21 million tonnes this season.

The western part of the country's agricultural belt has, however, received little rain and meteorologists warn that in the coming weeks the area is not expected to get significant moisture. This, they say, could end up damaging final yields.

"Wheat in Cordoba and La Pampa provinces, and in western Buenos Aires province, is very much in need of water," German Heinzenknecht, a meteorologist at the Applied Climatology (CCA) consultancy, told Reuters.

"If these areas do not see heavy rains, they will suffer some water stress in September. Surely, after that, you would see a recovery in ground moisture. But you would still lose some yield performance, unfortunately," he said.

According to the Buenos Aires Grains Exchange, the western regions of Cordoba, La Pampa provinces and western Buenos Aires contain a total 2.2 million hectares planted with 2019/20 wheat, or 32% of all wheat sown in Argentina this year.

"It is all dry out there," said Eduardo Sierra, a weather consultant for the exchange. "There is little prospect that rain will return soon."

Last week the exchange warned that if rain does not fall in the affected areas over the short term, crop loss would speed up. But Heinzenknecht said his weather models show that rains should return to the western grains belt in October.

(Writing by Hugh Bronstein; Editing by Steve Orlofsky)

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