Russia, Ukraine look for rain as spring grains sowing starts

MOSCOW/KIEV, (Reuters) – Farmers in Russia and Ukraine are looking for rains in the coming weeks as they start spring grain sowing earlier than usual after warm and dry winter, analysts and officials said.

Russia, Ukraine and Kazakhstan compete for supplies mainly via the Black Sea ports to Africa, the Middle East and Asia. Their output has become more stable in recent years amid improved technology and resources but is still highly dependent on the weather.

“When you look at the surface it looks really good,” said a farmer in southern Russia. “But then it comes to water reserves, and it simply might not be there in some areas where precipitation was lacking.”

“The coming weeks will be really important to see what is next,” he told Reuters.

The level of moisture in the soil is relatively good in Russia but rains are needed, SovEcon consultancy said, adding that the next two weeks are, however, expected to be dry in most parts of Russia and Ukraine.

Russia, the world’s largest wheat exporter, is so far expected to boost its 2020 grain crop by 4 million tonnes to 125 million tonnes, according to official estimate, with higher wheat output.

Some of its regions started sowing earlier than usual in 2020, the agriculture minister Dmitry Patrushev told a government meeting on Thursday. Farmers will increase sowing area for soybeans as it “has high export potential”, he said.

Russian farmers will, however, sow less maize (corn) due to stiff competition with Ukraine, analysts said. Ukraine plans to boost corn the area by 200,000 hectares to 5.2 million hectares.

Winter grains in Russia are in a relatively healthy state with only six percent of them in a weak condition. In Ukraine, the situation is less favourable with 11 percent of winter grains being weak after the dry autumn, but Ukrainian farmers may compensate some of it with spring barley and corn, analysts said.

The moisture reserve in Ukraine is so far worse than a year ago, Taras Vysotskiy, a senior official, told Reuters. He expects Ukraine’s 2020 grain crop at 65-70 million tonnes vs a record of 75 million tonnes in 2019.

While Russia and Ukraine sow both winter and spring wheat, the bulk of Kazakhstan’s production comes from spring wheat. The country is a major supplier to Central Asia, Afghanistan and Iran.

Kazakhstan plans to reduce its 2020 grain sowing area by 192,700 hectares to 15.2 million hectares but keep the area for wheat steady at 11.4 million hectares, its government said.

It will, however, sow more sunseeds and feed grains – which the country believes are attractive for exports – and will increase the area for buckwheat, which Kazakhs and Russians often see as a socially important product.

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