Prices for wheat, corn and soybeans fell on Wednesday as farmers welcomed rain in some parts of the country and damage from Hurricane Isaac last week appeared to be less than initially feared.
The price of wheat for December delivery fell the most, losing 2.4 percent, or 21 cents, to $8.6775 per bushel.
Prices for all three crops have rocketed higher since June, largely because of a drought that investors fear will hammer crop yields in important agriculture states like Iowa and Indiana. It isn't known just how much the crops have been hurt, though some investors fear that it is too late for corn especially, because it is harvested earlier.
Mike Zuzolo, at Global Commodity Analytics & Consulting, wrote in a note to clients that many states are much closer to being finished with corn harvesting than they were at this time last year. Missouri, for example, is about 44 percent finished, compared with 10 percent at this time last year. "This all suggests to me that yields are poor," Zuzolo wrote.
New tropical storms developing in the Atlantic could also push up prices for some crops, Jack Scoville of Price Futures Group wrote in a note to clients. The price of orange juice, which depends heavily on crops in hurricane-prone Florida, jumped nearly 3 percent.
But for all the reasons to worry about crops, investors appeared placated for a day. Recent rains helped. So did the general assessment that damage from Hurricane Isaac wasn't as bad as some had feared it might be. And much of the price increase related to the long drought has already been accounted for.
December corn fell 14.25 cents, or 1.8 percent, to $7.9075 per bushel. November soybeans fell 20.75 cents, or 1.2 percent, to $17.475 per bushel.
In other areas, investors had a hard time deciding which direction to go. Investors have been disappointed by weak manufacturing reports this week out of China and the U.S., and were jolted Wednesday when bellwether FedEx warned that a global slowdown would hurt its profits. At the same time, the signs of a weak economy give them more hope that the Federal Reserve and other central banks around the world will step in more decisively to try to fix things.
On the stock market, indexes darted between small gains and losses. The Dow Jones industrial average notched a small gain while the Standard & Poor's 500 and the Nasdaq composite fell. Precious metals finished slightly lower, while industrial metals rose. The price of oil in New York rose slightly, while other energy commodities fell.
December gold slipped $2 to $1,694 per ounce. December silver fell 8.2 cents to $32.329 per ounce.
December copper gained 6 cents, nearly 2 percent, to $3.529 per pound. December palladium rose $5.50 to $646.95 per ounce. October platinum gained $8.10 to $1,575.60 per ounce.
In New York, benchmark crude rose 6 cents to $95.36 per barrel. Brent crude, which is used to price international varieties of oil, fell $1.09 to $113.09 per barrel in London.
Heating oil fell 2.92 cents to finish at $3.1176 per gallon. Gasoline fell 0.24 cent to finish at $2.9498 per gallon. Natural gas fell 5.9 cents to finish at $2.7950 per 1,000 cubic feet.