By Julie Ingwersen
CHICAGO (Reuters) - The southern U.S. Plains should stay drier than normal through June, potentially stressing the region's hard red winter wheat crop, an agricultural meteorologist said on Tuesday.
"Right now, central Nebraska, most of Kansas, northwestern Oklahoma, far northwest Texas, and eastern Colorado are very dry," MDA Weather Services meteorologist Don Keeney told the Reuters Global Ags Forum.
"I don't see any significant relief for them for quite a while, as the long-range forecast has drier than normal conditions there through April, May, and June," Keeney said.
Wheat condition ratings in Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas, the biggest U.S. winter wheat producers, held steady or improved in the last week, according to state crop reports issued Monday by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
But the latest weekly U.S. Drought Monitor showed that one-third of Oklahoma was abnormally dry as of March 8, up from 21 percent a week earlier and zero percent at the start of 2016. Dryness expanded last week in Kansas, Texas and Colorado as well.
"(T)he Plains will likely be one of the more significant issues to watch over the coming weeks/months," Keeney said.
Hard red winter wheat, the largest U.S. wheat class, is milled into flour for bread. The crop is planted in autumn, emerges from the ground and goes dormant over the winter. Its need for moisture peaks in the spring as it resumes growth ahead of harvest in June and July.
For the Midwest corn and soybean belt, MDA's seasonal outlook projects above-normal temperatures from April through June, and above-normal precipitation in April for the eastern Midwest and the Southeast.
"The two biggest issues I believe will be ongoing drought in the southern Plains, as well as a wet pattern in the Delta and southern Midwest in April which will delay planting," Keeney said.
For the summer, Keeney expects slightly above-normal temperatures in the Midwest and near-normal precipitation.
"Generally speaking, it should mean a decent year for U.S. corn (and) soybeans," Keeney said, "although the warm temperatures may shave some off the top of yields, particularly later in the summer."
(Reporting by Julie Ingwersen; Editing by Marguerita Choy)