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GRAINS-Soy up on exports, biodiesel hopes; corn firms after contract lows

(Updates U.S. market activity to close)

CHICAGO, Aug 24 (Reuters) - Chicago Board of Trade soybean futures climbed nearly 1 percent on Thursday, lifted by strong export demand, gains in soyoil prices and smaller pod count findings on an annual U.S. crop tour, traders said.

Corn and wheat futures rallied late in the trading session on short-covering after prices for each earlier notched life-of-contract lows.

Soybeans for November delivery settled 8-1/2 cents higher at $9.46-1/2 per bushel, the largest daily gains since Aug. 7. CBOT September soyoil hit a nearly one-month high of 35.13 cents per pound before trimming gains, finishing up 0.06 cent at 34.78 as traders unwound soyoil-soymeal spreads.

Soyoil has climbed since a U.S. Commerce Department announcement on Tuesday that it would impose duties on soy-based Argentina biodiesel imports that it said were unfairly subsidized.

INTL FCStone said in a client note that some analysts expected soyoil to test 40 cents per pound due to the Commerce decision.

"This, coupled with continued good Chinese demand, has the soybean market finding support," the brokerage said.

Crop scouts on the final day of the annual Farm Journal Midwest Crop Tour reported average to below-average soybean pod counts in Minnesota and eastern Iowa - findings that could put at risk the U.S. Department of Agriculture's outlook for a record U.S. soy harvest. Final data from the four-day crop tour was due on Friday.

Weekly U.S. soybean export sales of more than 2 million tonnes for the shipping season that starts on Sept. 1 topped analyst estimates of 400,000 to 600,000, USDA data showed. More than half of the sales were bound for China.

CBOT December corn firmed 1/2 cent to $3.56-1/4 per bushel, recovering slightly from a lifetime low of $3.54-1/2.

CBOT December wheat was up 4-1/2 cents to $4.34-1/2, bouncing from its contract low of $4.26-3/4.

"The supply and demand situation in the corn market looks to be another range bound, grind-it-out affair with plenty of supply abroad to meet any short-term supply shortfalls," Halo Commodities analyst Tregg Cronin said in a note.

"Chicago wheat has retraced the entire summer rally... and has now put wheat back into livestock rations in some parts of the United States," Cronin added.

(Additional reporting by Colin Packham in Sydney and Sybille de La Hamaide in Paris; Editing by Bernadette Baum and Dan Grebler)