By Julie Ingwersen
CHICAGO (Reuters) - Rains across the central United States kept farmers out of the fields for most of last week, limiting their ability to finish planting corn or catch up on soybeans and as a result planting of both crops is slower than average, according to USDA and state reports.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture said in a weekly report on Monday that the U.S. corn crop was 91 percent planted as of Sunday, up from 86 percent a week earlier but behind the five-year average of 95 percent. Soybeans were 57 percent planted, up from 44 percent the previous week but far behind the five-year average of 74 percent.
Planting progress was the slowest for both crops at this point in the year since 1996.
In Iowa, the biggest U.S. producer of both corn and soybeans, farmers had an average of just 0.6 day considered "suitable for fieldwork" during the week ended June 2.
"This was the wettest reporting week since July 2010," the Iowa field office of the USDA's National Agricultural Statistics Service said in its report. "Rain events throughout the week kept most fields too wet for machinery to enter," it said.
In North Dakota, USDA's state field office said that "if warmer and drier conditions aren't experienced soon, producers in many areas of the state will have some amounts of prevented plantings this year."
Crop insurance deadlines for corn have passed in Iowa, North Dakota and many other states, meaning that later-planted corn acres will be eligible for only partial coverage.
Consequently, analysts expect U.S. corn plantings to fall below the USDA's current forecast of 97.3 million acres. The average U.S. corn acreage estimate among 14 analysts surveyed by Reuters was 95.1 million acres.
Earlier on Monday, Morgan Stanley estimated U.S. 2013 corn plantings at 93.5 million acres, 4 percent below USDA's figure.
The Reuters poll projected the U.S. soybean planted area at 78.2 million acres, above the USDA's forecast of 77.1 million. The increase reflects expectations that farmers will switch some acres from corn to soybeans, which can be planted later without as much threat to yield potential.
CORN CONDITION RATINGS
In its first corn condition ratings of the season, the USDA said 63 percent of the crop was rated good to excellent, tied with 2008 for the lowest rating at this time of year since 2002.
A year ago, 72 percent of the U.S. corn was rated good to excellent, although ratings plummeted later in the summer as the crop endured a historic drought that ultimately slashed yields.
U.S. PLAINS WHEAT BELT HIT WITH STORMS
USDA's state reports noted heavy rains in the last week from North Dakota eastward to Indiana, where some areas reported six inches of rain in the week, and southward to Arkansas. Deadly tornadoes and flooding struck in Oklahoma.
The precipitation eased drought conditions in parts of the southern Plains winter wheat belt. The USDA said 32 percent of the U.S. winter wheat crop was rated good to excellent, up 1 percentage point from the previous week.
But drought persisted in western sections of Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma and northern Texas.
"Pastures remain in poor or very poor condition across much of the western half of Nebraska.... Pastures were beginning to respond to the spring moisture but are still short in most rangeland areas," USDA's Nebraska field office said.
Farther north, the USDA said the U.S. spring wheat crop was 80 percent planted, barely budging from 79 percent a week earlier and lagging the five-year average of 92 percent. Much of the crop is grown in the northern U.S. Plains.
The government said 64 percent of the spring wheat crop was rated good to excellent.
(Reporting by Julie Ingwersen; Editing by Bob Burgdorfer)