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 Mahamad Rodzi Abdul Ghani
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 Argentine soya crop developing normally, rains con

BUENOS AIRES (16 March 2003) - The 2002/03 soya crop is developingnormally in Argentina, the world's No 3 producer, but a government weatherspecialist said on Friday that worries persist that rains in the comingweeks will delay the harvest and threaten quality.

Last week, Argentine farmers began harvesting what the government expectsto be a record crop of 34 million tonnes of soya.

Peak harvest time is in late March and early April.

"Soya is developing well," said Cesar Rebella, who heads the state-runWater and Climate Institute.

"But in the main soya region, the risk is that there will be days of heavyrains that will hamper collection and decrease quality."

Rains last autumn -- which begin in March in the southern hemisphere --delayed the harvest but did not hurt production.

Weather forecasters predict a good deal of rain will again strikeArgentina's main soya regions in the key months of March, April and May,due to the El Nino weather pattern.

"The El Nino is completing the cycle that it began in the middle of lastyear and this weather (heavy rains) comes at the beginning and end of suchcycles," Rebella said.

Rebella said so far soya yields in the northern part of the country wherethe harvest had begun were 3 to 4 tonnes per hectare and that a "very goodproduction" level was expected.

The US Department of Agriculture forecasts Argentine soya production at 35million tonnes.

Argentina collected 30 million tonnes of the oilseed last season.

The corn harvest continues normally, with yields of 7 to 12 tonnes perhectare in the main corn regions, Rebella said.

Farmers had collected 17 percent of the corn crop by last Friday, the mostrecent date for which official data was available.

Argentina expects to harvest 14.5 million tonnes of 2002/03 corn, in linewith the USDA forecast.-Reuters