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RAIN HELPING EASE DROUGHT IN MIDWEST

Rain has helped take the edge off persistent drought conditions in the central and southern Great Plains and has slowed field work in the eastern Corn Belt and the Delta region, say government crop watchers.

But despite the rain, the outlook for winter wheat in much of the plains continues to be poor. Harvest is under way in several states, including Texas and Oklahoma.On Capitol Hill, lawmakers are putting together a 1989 version of last year's huge $3.9 billion drought aid package. Although no firm cost estimate has been tied to the current package, it would contain many of the financial aid features of last year's measure.

The latest report by the Joint Agricultural Weather Facility said corn planting nationally was 84 percent complete by the end of the May 15-21 survey week, lagging the normal pace by only two percentage points. However, in the wetter areas of the eastern Corn Belt, planting of the new crop lagged far behind.

"Planting was complete in Texas and nearly complete in Georgia, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri and Nebraska," the report said.

But in Ohio, where 85 percent of the corn acreage is usually planted by now, only 24 percent was seeded, the report said. In Pennsylvania, 19 percent of the corn was planted by May 21, compared with 62 percent in normal years.

The weather facility, operated by the Agriculture and Commerce departments, said the 1989 soybean crop was about 39 percent planted, only two percentage points behind normal. However, plantings lagged sharply in some areas, including Ohio, where only 6 percent of the estimated soybean acreage had been planted, compared with a normal 56 percent.

Cotton plantings, at 60 percent, were nine points behind the usual rate. Although planting was complete in California, it lagged in the Delta and Southeast.

A related report by the USDA's 1989 drought task force headed by Undersecretary Richard Crowder said that "timely rains in the Corn Belt are promoting rapid germination and establishment of this year's crop."

But the report added that the impact of recent rain in winter wheat areas will depend, in part, on future weather.