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Rains give Argentine soy a needed boost as planting begins

BUENOS AIRES, Oct 26 (Reuters) - Much-needed rain brought timely relief to drought-plagued farmlands in Argentina's main agricultural region on Wednesday, experts said, boosting prospects just as planting begins for the country's critical soybean crop.

Up to 100 millimeters (3.9 inches) of water fell in some areas in the past 24 hours, with much of the country's most important farmlands receiving at least 30 millimeters, according to the Argentine National Meteorological Service.

"In general, the rainfall was very good," German Heinzenknecht, a meteorologist at Applied Climatology Consulting (CCA), told Reuters, adding that the "clear winners" were areas west of Buenos Aires, southeast of Cordoba and southwest of Santa Fe.

A drought beginning in May has forced the country's main grains exchanges to reduce their wheat harvest estimates to 13.7 million tonnes, from more than 22 million in the previous cycle, and has generated significant delays in corn planting, which began last month.

But while the rains are overdue for much of farmers' corn and wheat crops, they are right on time for soybeans, said Cristian Russo, an analyst at the major Rosario Grains Exchange, and some lots intended for corn will now be sown with soybeans.

Argentina is the world's leading exporter of soybean oil and meal, which provide a source of sorely needed foreign currency.

"Surely this is going to kick off the planting," Russo noted, warning however that in many places there is still not enough water.

Rains expected for this weekend are likely to be insufficient, Heinzenknecht added, with late frosts possible on Monday in some farming areas.

The Rosario exchange earlier this month forecast the current soybean crop to reap a harvest of 48 million tonnes, above the 42.2 million tonnes in the previous cycle.

(Reporting by Maximilian Heath Editing by Marguerita Choy)

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