CHICAGO (Reuters) - Sizzling temperatures in the northern U.S. Plains spring wheat belt will spread next week into parts of the western Midwest, threatening corn yield prospects as the crop enters its key pollination phase, meteorologists said on Friday.
Temperatures from Kansas through the Dakotas are expected to reach the mid 90s to mid 100s Fahrenheit, or 35 to 41 Celsius, through next week. Above-normal readings approaching 100 F could reach parts of Nebraska, Missouri and Iowa in the first half of next week.
"It's going to be pretty significant. It's been dry and they are not going to get a whole lot of rain," said Don Keeney, meteorologist with MDA Weather Services.
Persistent heat in the northern Plains has already scorched the spring wheat crop, sending Minneapolis Grain Exchange spring wheat futures soaring to a four-year high above $8 a bushel this week.
In North Dakota, the top spring wheat state, drought has hit ranchers as well as grain farmers, doubling hay prices as grazing land becomes scarce.
Western Corn Belt states such as Iowa and Nebraska, the No. 1 and 3 U.S. corn producers, have escaped major weather stress so far. The U.S. Department of Agriculture this week rated 78 percent of Iowa's corn and 75 percent of Nebraska's crop in good to excellent condition.
But soil moisture is lacking in portions of both states, leaving corn more vulnerable to heat stress.
"It will be a compounded effect in those drier areas. That does equate to a little more impact on the crop," said Mark Licht, an Iowa State University extension agronomist.
The latest weekly U.S. Drought Monitor, prepared by a consortium of climatologists, showed two-thirds of Nebraska and half of Iowa were abnormally dry.
Next week's warm-up arrives just as the corn crop is starting to pollinate, the most critical stage for determining yield. Hot and dry conditions during pollination tend to limit yield potential.
Rains in the western Midwest are likely to be limited as long as the high-pressure ridge that has been baking the northern Plains persists.
As a result, said Commodity Weather Group meteorologist David Streit, "You are depending on scattered thundershower activity to do all the heavy lifting, instead of a classic front or storm system like you often see in the spring or fall."
Reporting by Julie Ingwersen; Editing by Sandra Maler