Rains ruin Christmas for water-weary Argentine soy farmers

* Low-lying Pampas fields waterlogged, still unseeded

* Dry week seen ahead, growers hope to restart seeding

BUENOS AIRES, Dec 26 (Reuters) - Christmas rainstorms in

Argentina further delayed soy and corn planting, keeping markets

guessing about whether the grains powerhouse can produce enough

this season to help bring high-flying global food prices down to

earth.

The South American country is the world's No. 2 corn

exporter after the United States and its No. 1 soyoil and

soymeal supplier. But sowing in the central Pampas farm belt

lags last season's tempo by about 20 percentage points, said

Tomas Parenti, an agronomist with the Rosario grains exchange.

Up to 100 millimeters (3.9 inches) of rain fell late on

Monday and early Tuesday (Christmas Eve and Christmas Day),

forcing some growers once again to park their seeding machines

lest they sink in the mud.

Any more harsh rains at this point - following an unusual

August-October wet spell that turned prime Argentine farmland

into unplantable mush - will add to the problem, Parenti said.

"There is excessive moisture in low-lying areas throughout

the central farm belt," Parenti said, referring to an area

including parts of Buenos Aires, Santa Fe and Cordoba provinces.

"Fields located in the same area but at higher elevation are

in good shape. We're not expecting a lot of rain over the week

ahead but if we get any surprises, anything over 40 or 50

millimeters, it will worsen the problem," he added.

Argentina's main grains port of Rosario, situated along the

Parana River and offering access to the shipping lanes of the

South Atlantic, has received almost twice its normal rainfall

this year.

Soggy conditions on the Pampas are bad news for consumer

nations looking to Argentina for the supply jolt needed to

soften food prices squeezed higher this year by dry crop weather

in breadbaskets Russia, the United States and Australia.

Benchmark Chicago soy futures are up 20 percent over the

last 12 months, with corn up 9 percent and wheat 22 percent.

Global food markets face further volatility in 2013 as

stocks and supply of key cereals have tightened, the United

Nations food agency said this month.

 The corn- and soy-growing town of General Villegas in

northwest Buenos Aires received 50 to 100mm of rain on Dec. 24

and 25, said Dante Romano, farm expert at the Liberty

Foundation, a pro-business think tank in Rosario.

"This aggravated the flooding and it will take a few days

for planting to get back on track," he said.

"Several days of sun are on the way. But whatever heavy rain

falls at this point could suspend seeding again. A lot of fields

that would normally be seeded by this point in the season have

not been touched yet," Romano said.

Farm towns such as Marco Juarez in Cordoba province and

General Pinto in Buenos Aires are among those that have not had

enough sunshine to provide the stable topsoils needed to allow

farmers to bring seeding machines - which weigh about 30 tonnes

fully outfitted - onto their fields.

The rains have also slowed 2012/13 wheat harvesting, while

Romano and other analysts start to adjust their 2012/13 soy and

corn crop expectations to factor in waterlogged conditions.

The Agriculture Ministry on Thursday cut its estimate for

2012/13 wheat production by 5 percent to 10.5 million tonnes,

which is still higher than leading private forecasts but

reflects damage caused by the wet weather.

The Buenos Aires Grains Exchange expects farmers to harvest

9.8 million tonnes of wheat, while the Rosario exchange sees the

crop coming in at 9.5 million tonnes.

Rosario sees 53 million tonnes of soybeans produced this

season and 24 million tonnes of corn. The Buenos Aires exchange

has not yet issued 2012/13 corn and soy projections.

(Additional reporting by Maximilian Heath; Editing by Dale

Hudson)

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