* Concerns about Ukraine unrest buoy wheat futures
* Soybeans near highest in nine months
* Corn follows wheat higher; planting outlook limits gains
(Updates with closing prices, adds new analyst quote) CHICAGO, April 15 (Reuters) - U.S. soybean futures rose 1.7 percent on Tuesday on signs that domestic processors kept their plants running at high levels even as supplies dwindled, traders said. Wheat futures gained 3.4 percent, surging through the $7-a-bushel level, on fears that escalating political tensions in Ukraine would disrupt shipments of the grain from the key exporter. The gains in wheat pulled corn higher after a weak start, but forecasts for warm weather and dry conditions across the U.S. Midwest during the next 10 days limited the gains. The improving weather should allow farmers to make quick work of planting, which has been delayed across much of the region. The soy rally erased much of the losses posted during the last week following Chinese defaults on imports that showed demand from the world's biggest buyer of the oilseed was waning. "The market last week was compressed on the China default news," said Dan Cekander, grains analyst with Newedge USA. "That caused a lot of liquidation. It still doesn't solve the tight supply situation unless those boats end up here." Chicago Board of Trade soybeans for May delivery settled up 25 cents at $15.01-1/4 a bushel and threatened to break through last week's high of $15.12. That would mark the highest price for the front-month soybean contract since July 23, 2013. The National Oilseed Processors Association on Tuesday said its U.S. members crushed 153.840 million bushels of soybeans in March, up from 141.612 million in February. Analysts had forecast a monthly crush of 146.1 million bushels, according to a Reuters poll. The crush was the heaviest for March since at least 2001 and threatened to further reduce the already tight domestic stockpile of U.S. beans. "The crush rate is an indication that current prices and spreads are not rationing domestic demand," said Rich Feltes, vice president of research for R.J. O'Brien. "The USDA in its April crop report trimmed the U.S. soybean crush by 5 million bushels. There is nothing in the crush reports to date to suggest that that is a realistic estimate." CBOT wheat for May delivery was up 23 cents at $7.01-3/4 a bushel, closing near its session top and hitting its highest since March 28. "Wheat exploded to the upside off more chart buying, fears that the overnight freeze ... hurt the crop, and more jitters over Russia and Ukraine," Charlie Sernatinger, analyst at ED&F Man Capital said in a report. Temperatures dropped well below freezing in the southern U.S. Plains wheat belt early Tuesday and likely hurt some fields already stressed by drought but meteorologists said the damage was not expected to be widespread. The U.S. Department of Agriculture on Monday afternoon rated the winter wheat crop at 34 percent good to excellent, 1 percentage point below last week and two points below a year ago, broadly in line with market expectations. CBOT May corn was up just 3/4 cent at $5.03-3/4 a bushel. USDA said farmers had planted just 3 percent of the corn crop as of April 13, below the five-year average of 6 percent but 1 percentage point above where farmers were a year ago. Corn planting progress inched along throughout much of April 2013 before exploding during May, and many analysts expect a similar pattern this year, which should allow plenty of time for the crop to develop before scorching weather hits the Midwest in July. "A lot of people are ready to go," Feltes said. "People generally feel this is the last cold blast, the last snow. There will be a lot of folks starting to roll next week." Prices at 2:01 p.m. CDT (1901 GMT)
LAST NET PCT YTD CHG CHG CHG CBOT corn 503.75 0.75 0.2% 19.4% CBOT soy 1501.25 25.00 1.7% 14.4% CBOT meal 487.40 8.30 1.7% 11.4% CBOT soyoil 42.83 0.57 1.4% 10.3% CBOT wheat 701.75 23.00 3.4% 15.9% CBOT rice 1541.00 -1.00 -0.1% -0.6% EU wheat 221.25 7.25 3.4% 5.9% US crude 103.57 -0.48 -0.5% 5.2% Dow Jones 16,228 55 0.3% -2.1% Gold 1302.03 -24.07 -1.8% 8.0% Euro/dollar 1.3810 -0.0008 -0.1% 1.2% Dollar Index 79.8050 0.0800 0.1% -0.3% Baltic Freight 970 -19 -1.9% -57.4%
In U.S. cents, benchmark contracts, except EU wheat (euros) and soymeal (dollars). CBOT wheat, corn and soybeans per bushel, rice per hundredweight, soymeal per ton and soyoil per lb.
(Additional reporting by Julie Ingwersen and Christine Stebbins; Editing by Meredith Mazzilli and Jonathan Oatis)