USDA raises US winter wheat ratings more than expected

CHICAGO, Nov 27 (Reuters) - The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) on Monday rated 50% of the U.S. winter wheat crop in good-to-excellent condition, up two percentage points from last week and a bigger improvement than most analysts expected.

The good-to-excellent rating was the highest for this time of year in four years, favoring production prospects in the world's No. 4 wheat exporter and potentially easing fears of tightening global grain supplies. However, dry conditions persist in key areas including Kansas, the top winter wheat growing state. As always, the U.S. crop's potential will be highly dependent on springtime weather.

Eleven analysts surveyed by Reuters on average had expected a one-point improvement in wheat ratings, with estimates ranging from 47% to 50% good-to-excellent.

The USDA's two-point rise in ratings came as soil moisture levels increased. The share of U.S. winter wheat production located in a drought area fell to 41% by Nov. 21, down from 44% the previous week and down significantly from 75% a year earlier, according to the USDA. A foot (30.5 cm) of snow fell in parts of south-central Kansas over the weekend, the National Weather Service said.

Meanwhile, the U.S. fall harvest is virtually finished. The U.S. corn crop was 96% harvested by Sunday, the USDA said, behind the average trade estimate of 97% but ahead of the five-year average of 95%. The U.S. soybean harvest was 95% complete by Nov. 12, the government reported previously.

The United States is the world's second-largest corn and soybean exporter after Brazil.

Monday's weekly progress report was the USDA's last for 2023. Over the winter, the USDA's National Agricultural Statistics Service releases monthly reports for select states. The government will resume weekly U.S. crop progress reports in April.