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GRAINS-U.S. corn, soybean, wheat futures close strong; post weekly gains

* GRAPHIC-Commodity prices in 2019: (Updates with U.S. trading, adds new analyst quote)

By Mark Weinraub

CHICAGO, March 15 (Reuters) - U.S. wheat futures rose 1.7 percent on Friday as traders unwound bearish bets they placed on the grain when the market spiraled to a 14-month low earlier this week.

The most-active Chicago Board of Trade soft red winter wheat contract hit its highest since March 6 as investment funds were reluctant to keep their massive short position in place as the U.S. crop emerges from dormancy, which leaves it vulnerable to weather damage.

Corn futures also were higher on short-covering as concerns about muddy fields and cold soils raise questions about growers being able to seed as much corn as they intended to in the coming weeks.

"Some traders are just getting a little bit bullish due to spring planting delays," said Terry Reilly, senior commodity analyst at Futures International.

Soybean futures were firm as traders waited for fresh news about a potential trade deal between Beijing and Washington.

"Many of the headlines remain familiar with ongoing trade talks between the U.S. and China, flooding concerns for the coming U.S. planting season, and increased harvest estimates around the world," brokers Allendale said in a note.

Chicago Board of Trade May wheat futures ended up 9-1/2 cents at $4.62-1/4 a bushel. The most-active contract rose 4.7 percent this week, its biggest weekly gain in seven months.

CBOT May corn futures were up 1-1/2 cents at $3.71-3/4 a bushel. Corn has risen four days in a row and notched a weekly gain of 2.4 percent.

"The prospects... are for late corn planting in the south and over the Dakotas, that may eventually threaten seeding ideas and result in switches to bean area," Charlie Sernatinger, global head of grain futures at ED&F Man Capital, said in a note to clients.

CBOT May soybeans ended 10-3/4 cents higher at $9.09-1/4 a bushel. The most-active contract rose 1.5 percent this week.

The U.S. soybean processing pace slowed by more than expected in February, although the crush was still the largest on record for the month, according to National Oilseed Processors Association (NOPA) data released on Friday.

NOPA members, who handle about 95 percent of all soybeans crushed in the United States, processed 154.498 million bushels of soybeans last month, down from 171.630 million bushels in January but up from 153.719 million bushels in February 2018.

(Additional reporting by Naveen Thukral in Singapore and Gus Trompiz in Paris; Editing by Dan Grebler)

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