GRAINS-Corn rises to a one-week high on strong export data; soy, wheat firm

(Recasts with U.S. trading, adds new comment, changes byline and dateline; previous HAMBURG)

By Mark Weinraub

CHICAGO, March 15 (Reuters) - U.S. corn futures rose 2% to a one-week high on Monday, recovering from overnight weakness after a U.S. government report showed that export demand for the grain remained high.

Soybean and wheat futures also were firm after trading in negative territory during the overnight session.

A weekly U.S. Agriculture Department report showed corn export inspections of 2.204 million tonnes, up from 1.673 million tonnes in the prior week. That topped analysts' expectations, which ranged from 1.2 million to 1.9 million tonnes.

"That probably is one of the catalysts that jump-started this thing," said Mark Schultz, chief market analyst at Northstar Commodity.

Slow farmer sales of corn in recent weeks added to the strength, showing that the market needed to rally above recent highs to pry supplies from growers in order to meet demand on the export market, Schultz added

At 11:40 a.m. CDT (1640 GMT), Chicago Board of Trade corn for May delivery was up 10-1/2 cents at $5.49-1/2 a bushel.

CBOT wheat was up 4-1/4 cents at $6.42-3/4 a bushel.

Traders noted bargain buying in wheat after the most-active contract hit its lowest on a continuous basis since Feb. 12 overnight.

But gains were limited as some much-needed rain fell in the U.S. Plains during the weekend. Traders also noted forecasts for more moisture that boosted prospects for crop development in that key wheat-growing region.

"Plains weekend rains ... additional rains at mid-week improve spring growth substantially," Commodity Weather Group said in a note to clients. "Plains dryness not a ... concern for now."

CBOT May soybeans were up 8-1/2 cents at $14.21-3/4 a bushel.

The U.S. soybean crush was well below trade expectations in February, sinking to the lowest in 17 months, according to data released by the National Oilseed Processors Association (NOPA) on Monday. (Reporting by Mark Weinraub; additional reporting by Michael Hogan in Hamburg and Naveen Thukral in Singapore; editing by Kirsten Donovan and Jonathan Oatis)

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