Parched Argentine soy, corn fields seen benefiting from better rains

By Hugh Bronstein

BUENOS AIRES, Jan 14 (Reuters) - Argentine soy and corn fields have benefited from recent rains, with more showers expected that could slowly improve crop yields after they were threatened by dry weather earlier in the season, local climate experts said on Thursday.

Concerns that Argentine production might falter amid tightening global supplies of grains and oilseeds have sent benchmark corn, soy and wheat futures on the Chicago Board of Trade to their highest levels since at least 2014.

Rising feed grain demand in China, the world's top commodity importer, has further fueled the rally.

Months of dryness on Argentina's Pampas grains belt have raised concerns about productivity in the world's No. 3 corn exporter and top supplier of soymeal livestock feed.

Crops were helped by scattered cloud bursts over recent days, with more showers expected. Whether the coming rains will be enough to provide good crop yields remained to be seen.

"The rains have provided some relief but the situation is still not ideal," said German Heinzenknecht, weather expert with local consultancy Applied Climatology.

"The water supply remains tight, although we are expecting rain over the weekend in wide parts of the farm belt, concentrated in northern areas like central-north Santa Fe, northern Cordoba and northern Buenos Aires province," he told Reuters in a telephone interview.

Argentina's wheat harvest is expected at 17 million tonnes, up from 16.5 million estimated in December, thanks to record yields in southeast Buenos Aires province, the Rosario grains exchange said on Wednesday. The exchange expects 47 million tonnes of soy this season and 46 million tonnes of corn.

"We expect better frequency rain over the 45 days ahead, which would help yields," Heinzenknecht said. The worst effects of the La Nina climate phenomenon, which tends to bring dryness to Argentina, struck in November and December, he added.

Other analysts were more guarded.

"The rains have helped but more moisture is needed on a regular basis over a wider area. It still not clear if that will happen," said Gustavo Lopez of the local AgriTrend consultancy.

Argentine corn is planted in September, with late corn going into the ground in November and December. Harvesting starts in April and ends in July. Soy planting starts in mid-October and November, with harvesting in March-May. Argentina's 2020/21 wheat crop will be fully harvested by the end of January.

This season's crop yields will be less than average due to the dryness, Eduardo Bell said by text message from his farm in the Buenos Aires province town of Saladillo, in the heart of the Pampas. "But 15 days ago it looked very bad," he added.

(Reporting by Hugh Bronstein, Additional reporting by Karl Plume in Chicago; Editing by Kirsten Donovan)

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