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Dryness speeds Argentina's soy harvest while slowing River cargo traffic

By Hugh Bronstein

BUENOS AIRES, April 21 (Reuters) - Dryness in Argentina has helped farmers speed collection of this season's soy, before heavy rains expected next week cause likely harvesting delays in the world's top exporter of soymeal livestock feed and its No. 3 supplier of corn and raw soybeans.

Three weeks of good weather has helped farmers collect soy and corn by making fields firm enough to support heavy harvesting combines. But the dryness has contributed to logistics bottlenecks further down the export chain.

Decade-low water levels in the Parana River, are forcing exporters to load less merchandise at the export hub of Rosario and take extra time to top off cargos further south at the deep-water port of Bahia Blanca before heading out to sea.

"The climate has been perfect. We've had more than 20 days of good weather. It's the logistics side that needs more rain because the Parana is so low," said Alvaro Tomas, a grower in Buenos Aires province.

"We expect four or five days of rain, generally distributed over the farm zone, during the week ahead. This will cause a temporary suspension of harvesting," Tomas said from his farm in the bread-basket Pampas grains belt community of Carlos Casares.

April is prime soy and corn harvesting season in Argentina. Brazil has agreed to release water at the Itaipu hydroelectric dam to raise the Parana's level, Argentina says.

The country's crops were damaged by pockets of dry, hot weather in March, when harvesting was just getting started, prompting the Rosario grains exchange to reduce its crop estimates last week.

Farmers are expected to harvest 50.5 million tonnes of soy versus a previous forecast of 51.5 million tonnes. Rosario's corn crop estimate was to 49.8 million tonnes from a previous forecast of 50 million tonnes.

"There was a dry spell between the end of February and March that hit soybeans. The earliest-harvested fields in the zones affected suffered a drop in yields, but that was normalized as the harvest has progressed," Emilce Terre, chief economist at the Rosario exchange, said on Tuesday.

"The harvest is going largely as expected at this point."

Soy yields on the farm of Eduardo Bell, in the Buenos Aires town of Saladillo, have performed as expected so far, he said. "But I’ve heard that some farms have yielded less because of the February-March drought," Bell added. (Reporting by Hugh Bronstein; Editing by Tom Brown)

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