Favourable weather boosts hopes for Russia, Ukraine grain crops

MOSCOW/KIEV, March 15 (Reuters) – Favourable weather ahead of spring sowing in Black Sea grain producers Russia and Ukraine is boosting hopes of a large harvest, analysts, officials and traders said, although it will likely fall short of last year’s record.

Spring grain sowing in Russia, one of the world’s largest wheat exporters, started a few days ago and is 0.8 percent completed so far.

Farmers in Russia plan to sow spring grains on 31 million hectares in 2017, down 200,000 hectares from a year ago, and are expected to benefit from a good level of soil moisture and a healthy supply of fertilizers.

Russian farmers have bought six percent more fertilisers than a year ago for spring grains sowing, Agriculture Ministry official Pyotr Chekmaryov said in a statement this week.

Russia harvested a record grain crop of 121 million tonnes in 2016 when conditions were close to ideal, while this year’s crop may come in at 105-110 million tonnes, according to a preliminary estimate from Russia’s Grain Union, a non-government farmers’ lobby group.

“Spring sowing has started and everything is going in line with the plan so far, more or less favourable,” Arkady Zlochevsky, the head of the Union, told Reuters.

SovEcon agriculture consultancy sees Russia’s 2017 grain crop at 110-115 million tonnes and expects the spring grain sowing area to be in line with the average level of the recent years, 30.5 million to 31.5 million hectares.

“The level of moisture in soil is normal in general or higher than normal in some regions,” Andrey Sizov, the head of SovEcon, said.

Ukraine plans to sow a total of 7.2 million hectares of spring grains this year, up from 7 million hectares a year ago, and farmers have already bought 83 percent of needed fertilizers.

They have already sown 31,000 hectares of early spring grains and are also expected to benefit from a good level of moisture level in soil.

“There was a lot of snow during the winter and there is a sufficient level of moisture,” a trader said, adding that some regions, however, face a surplus of moisture, which could affect crop yields.

The country’s 2016 grains harvest totalled a record 66 million tonnes, including 26 million tonnes of wheat.

This year, Ukraine’s wheat crop is expected at 23.5 million tonnes, another trader said.

“The situation is not bad but not as favourable was it was last year,” he added.

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