By Maximilian Heath
AZUL, Argentina, Oct 7 (Reuters) - Gastón Blanchard, a farmer in Argentina's Pampas grains belt, has his eyes on the horizon waiting for rain. Clouds are starting to build, which he hopes will bring much-needed showers for his wheat crop, parched by months of dry weather.
A lot is hanging on the rains for Blanchard - and Argentina, one of the world's top sellers of soybeans and a key player in wheat and corn. Drought two seasons ago badly damaged crops, while favorable weather drove record harvests earlier this year.
In Blanchard's farm, outside the town of Azul, water is clearly needed. The tips of the wheat leaves are burned and yellow, and unusually the earth furrows between the June-planted crop are easily visible, a sign of delayed growth.
"We started with good soil moisture. But after July and August it was two months in a row with zero water," Blanchard said, while standing among the plants in his 330-hectare lot some 300 km (186.41 miles) southwest of capital city Buenos Aires.
September did not bring much relief either, Blanchard said, with only 15 mm (0.59 inches) of rainfall, a pattern reflected in key growing areas of Córdoba, La Pampa and Buenos Aires province, a region with 40% of the country's wheat.
Esteban Copati, head of agricultural forecasts at the Buenos Aires grains exchange, said that in areas where recent rains had not exceeded 15-20 mm, crops were being affected.
"It is likely that the lack of moisture and cold will have a direct impact on the crop, on the yield," he said.
The exchange has previously forecast a record 2019/20 wheat crop of 21 million tons, but warned last week the crop in some parts of the country was in critical condition.
Rain clouds are, however, bringing hope at a key juncture.
"You have to wait to see how the climate evolves during these next weeks, which are critical because it's now when you begin to define the crop yield in most of the national farming regions," said Copati.
He added weather patterns appeared to be returning to normal, with rains expected in October and in the last months of the year when wheat harvesting begins.
Blanchard said his wheat crop received about 10 mm of rain in early October, but needed more to grow properly.
"We're looking forward hopefully to better weather. It is key this happens so that the yields the crops can generate is not destroyed," he said. "The plants are still in the game, but they need water now."
(Reporting by Maximilian Heath in Azul; Editing by Adam Jourdan and Richard Chang)
Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.