* Corn belt hit by a year's worth of rain since September
* Pampas headed for a week of sunshine, but worries remain
* Argentina is world's No. 2 corn exporter after the U.S.
By Hugh Bronstein
BUENOS AIRES, Oct 30 (Reuters) - Argentina could lose 20
percent of its projected corn crop and 10 percent of its soy
this season because of violent storms that have lashed the
Pampas farm belt over the last three months, a local expert said
Consumer nations hope South American breadbaskets Argentina
and Brazil will step in with enough grain supplies to soften
prices squeezed higher this year by yield-killing droughts in
Russia and the United States.
But Argentina, the world's No. 3 soybean exporter and No. 2
corn supplier, has been swamped by unusually heavy rains since
August. Pampas topsoils, barely recovered from a
December-January drought that decimated 2011/12 crops, have been
reduced in some areas to unplantable mush.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture expects Argentina to
harvest 55 million tonnes of soy and 28 million tonnes of corn
in the 2012/13 crop year.
"Given all the hail, rain, waterlogging and flooding we've
seen, some corn fields will be lost. Others can still be
replanted, but with uncertain results," said Buenos Aires-based
economist and agricultural consultant Manuel Alvarado Ledesma.
"You can expect a drop in corn production of about 20
percent, to 22.4 million tonnes," he said. "There has also been
a delay in planting soy, which at this point looks like it will
reduce the harvest by 10 percent to 50 million tonnes."
Martin Fraguio, who heads local corn industry chamber
Maizar, said up to 15 percent of Argentina's corn area might be
lost to the rains this year. Still, he said, 2012/13 output will
be above the 21 million tonnes produced last season.
"Most of the corn belt has received, from September until
today, from 50 percent to 100 percent of the rain they would get
in a normal year," Fraguio said.
"We should have planted 50 to 70 percent by this point in
the season but we are only at 35 to 40 percent," he added. "But
I think it is still reasonable to expect 24 to 26 million tonnes
of production, or even more."
The flow of grains from Argentina is important to exporters
such as Cargill, Bunge Ltd and Noble Group Ltd
, which operate grains terminals along the Parana
River, leading to the shipping lanes of the South Atlantic.
Thin global food stocks have pushed Chicago soy futures 28
percent higher this year while corn has risen 14 percent.
The most recent wave of excessive rains - lasting from
Sunday afternoon to Monday night - was concentrated in key
growing areas such as central and northern Buenos Aires
province, southern Cordoba and Santa Fe.
"Over the next week, until about November 6, most of the
farm belt will get sunshine," said Ezequiel Marcuzzi,
meteorologist at consultancy Clima Campo.
"A large part of the Pampas is in a very complicated
situation due to excess moisture," he said. "If weather
conditions don't get back to normal over the months ahead, the
window will close and there will probably be crop losses."
Chicago wheat prices have soared 32 percent since January.
The flooding has also allowed fungus-based diseases to
attack wheat crops already hobbled by scant planting. The
Agriculture Ministry says it expects Argentina's upcoming wheat
harvest to shrink by 17 percent from last season, as farmers
skirt export curbs by shifting to other crops.
Argentine President Cristina Fernandez has riled farmers by
increasing the state's role in Latin America's third-biggest
economy, clamping down on access to U.S. dollars and slapping
export quotas on wheat and corn.
The country, robbed of competitiveness by one of the world's
highest inflation rates, has been shut out of the international
capital markets since its mammoth 2002 sovereign debt default.
But with the United Nations projecting food demand will
double by 2050 as the global population heads toward 9 billion,
Argentina's farm sector is unlikely to fall off the map of
international investment funds looking for growth areas.