By Sam Nelson
CHICAGO (Reuters) - A better chance of rain was expected late this week in portions of the drought-stricken U.S. Midwest, bringing some relief to the struggling corn and soybean crops, an agricultural meteorologist said on Wednesday.
"The U.S. weather model has a little wetter forecast than yesterday, but overall it looks like a similar pattern in August that we saw at the end of July," said Jason Nicholls, meteorologist for AccuWeather.
Nicholls predicted 0.25 to 0.75 inch of rain could fall from now into the weekend in the northern and eastern Midwest, with about 70 percent coverage. From 0.10 to 0.50 inch of rain was forecast for the central and southern Midwest, with 50 percent coverage.
Another front was expected later next week, bringing similar amounts of rain, Nicholls said, but temperatures were forecast to soar again after cooling off a little over the weekend.
"Sunday will be cooler with highs in the upper 80s degrees Fahrenheit, but it will get hot again with highs in the 90s and a few 100s," he said.
Commodity Weather Group (CWG) on Wednesday also forecast a wetter outlook for the southern Midwest for Thursday and Friday, and said the chance of rain in the Delta had improved.
"The best chances for relief to soybeans are in Nebraska, the southern half of Illinois and Indiana, and the southern third of Ohio," said CWG's meteorologist Joel Widenor.
Chicago Board of Trade (CBOT) corn and soybean futures prices were driven to record highs in late July as the worst drought in more than a half century spread throughout the country's heartland.
Prices for each were down more than one percent on Wednesday on the outlooks for some showers in the parched corn and soybean growing fields.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture on Monday rated 24 percent of the corn crop in good-to-excellent condition as of Sunday, and 29 percent of the soybean crop in good-to-excellent shape, both down 2 percentage points from the previous week.
The ratings for each were the worst since the comparable week in 1988, another year of severe drought in the nation's crop-growing mid-section.
Analysts and crop experts said further declines in condition ratings could be expected next week because the weather still stressed each crop.
The domestic corn crop shrunk another 2.5 percent over the past week, but the modest decline suggested damage from drought may be nearing an end, a Reuters poll of analysts showed on Tuesday.
The soybean crop was likewise getting smaller. Hot and dry weather forecast for the Midwest farm belt for the next two weeks could do more damage to the crop, according to the analysts.
The poll of 13 analysts projected the corn crop will be the smallest in six years at 11.2 billion bushels, down 2.5 percent from a Reuters poll last week. The yield was pegged at 129 bushels per acre, the lowest in 14 years and down 1.5 percent from last week.
The analysts expected soybean yield per acre to be 38.1 bushels, down 1.2 percent from last week and the lowest figure in nine years. They forecast soy production at 2.834 billion bushels, down 2.2 percent from last week and a four-year low.
(Reporting By Sam Nelson; Editing by John Picinich)