By Carey Gillam
(Reuters) - Heavy rains over the weekend in key growing areas of the U.S. Plains may have damaged some of the new wheat crop, leaving growers to hope for sunshine to help the crop dry out.
Flooding was noted Monday in parts of north-central Oklahoma and southeast Kansas after more than 5 inches of rain fell Saturday and Sunday, with most of pouring down on Sunday, meteorologists said.
Some of the heaviest rainfall was noted in northern Oklahoma. More than 8.5 inches fell Sunday and early Monday near Ponca City, Oklahoma, and other areas reported 5 to 8 inches through that region, said National Weather Service (NWS)meteorologist Karen Hatfield.
"They are having flooding problems," she said.
The totals for the Ponca City area makes it the wettest April on record for that part of Oklahoma, according to Gary McManus, associate state climatologist for the Oklahoma Climatological Survey.
More rain is forecast, according to McManus.
Southern areas of Oklahoma largely missed out on the showers and need more rain, he said.
In Kansas, typically the top U.S. winter wheat producing state, reports put rainfall at more than 2 to nearly 7 inches in a 24 hour period over the weekend through the southeast and south-central part of the state, said NWS meteorologist Jennifer Bowen.
"They had quite a bit of heavy rain that just stayed over southeast Kansas," Bowen said.
The deluge came at a time when the new wheat crop has been developing rapidly, with harvest projected weeks ahead of normal, and crop conditions reported sharply improved from last year. Some wheat experts have predicted a near record harvest in some areas due to good growing conditions.
Excessive rainfall on mature wheat can cause it to bend, to 'lay down' in a field, making it difficult to dry out and to harvest, eroding yields. Excessive rain can also foster disease.
Last year at this time, a persistent drought was plaguing the crop, and production suffered. Thus, the rainfall now, while excessive, is hard to get too upset about, said Mark Hodges, executive director of Plains Grains Inc. (PGI), which represents growers throughout the Plains in marketing their wheat.
"After last year how can you say a bad thing about moisture," Hodges said. "I sure am not going to complain about water."
Ultimately, the number of harvested bushels will depend on weather conditions over the next few weeks, he said. Sunshine and mild temperatures - less than 85 degrees Fahrenheit - is desirable to help wheat heads fill with grain.
"We've got plenty of moisture. We need the sunshine right now," said Hodges.
An industry tour of Kansas wheat fields and neighboring states kicks off Monday. About 100 representatives from food companies, grain trading houses, retailers and other food and agricultural industry players are scheduled to participate.
The crop scouts will assess production prospects and estimate an average yield as well as total production for the states.
As of April 22, the U.S. Department of Agriculture rated U.S. winter wheat as 63 percent good to excellent, slightly worse than the previous week, but much improved compared with 35 percent good to excellent a year earlier.
(Reporting By Carey Gillam; Editing by David Gregorio)