Slow sowing could hit Black Sea grain harvest

KIEV/MOSCOW (Reuters) — Continuous rain across most of Ukraine and the European part of Russia have slowed winter grain sowing, raising concern over a possible sharp fall in the 2014 winter wheat harvest, analysts and weather forecasters said.

The two countries, whose wheat output recovered this year after a drought in 2012, had sown a total of 25 million acres of winter grains by Sept. 30, or about 50 percent of the originally expected area.

Ukraine and Russia are traditional growers of winter wheat, which seeds in the autumn. The yield of winter wheat is much higher than that of wheat sown in spring.

“The endless rain makes it impossible to go to the fields in Russia’s central and south regions to harvest late grains and to sow,” Dmitry Rylko, the head of the Institute for Agricultural Market Studies, said.

Analysts said that late sowing and a smaller area under winter grains could cut the two countries’ harvest by up to 17 million tonnes of grain next year.

Russia plans to sow 40.5 million acres with all winter grains this year, down from 41 million acres a year ago. Winter wheat usually accounts for about 40 percent of the total planting area for wheat.

Its current area sown with winter grains is at its lowest level for 13 years. Russia had sown 48 percent of the planned area, or 19 million acres, by Sept. 30. This was down from 30 million acres at the same date a year ago.

“The problems with the sowing are creating conditions for a poor 2014 grains harvest as the possibility of substituting winter grains with spring grains is quite limited,” SovEcon agricultural analysts said.

A very early IKAR estimate suggests that Russia will sow about 30 million acres of winter wheat, compared with a planned 37 million acres, resulting in a harvest between four million and 10 million tonnes less than expected.

The decrease in the sown area of winter wheat prompted Russia’s agriculture ministry to offer to expand the area for corn, but farmers are more likely to shift to a larger number of cereals, such as spring wheat, spring barley and sunseed, IKAR said.

Winter wheat accounts for more than 90 percent of Ukraine’s total wheat output, but farms have almost missed the window for sowing because of heavy September rains.

Official data shows that farms sowed 5.4 million acres of winter wheat by Sept. 30, or 32 percent of the planned area, against 11 million acres by the same date in 2012.

Grain lobby UAC last week said that unfavourable weather may reduce the area under winter grains sown for 2014 to about 7.4 million acres from the 20 million acres originally expected.

According to analysts’ calculations, 7.4 million acres could produce less than 10 million tonnes of grain.

Ukraine, which consumes 12 million tonnes of wheat per season, harvested about 22 million tonnes in 2013 and 15.8 million tonnes in 2012.

“Most likely, between about 60 to 70 percent of the initial area of 20 million acres of winter grains will be sown this year,” Volodymyr Lapa, of consultancy UCAB, said.

“Only half of the crops will be sown in optimum conditions and all farmers understand that late sowing is too risky. The soil could be too cold for germination.”

Some farmers and analysts in Ukraine and Russia say that the weather could give producers a chance to complete the sowing without significant losses.

Farmers in Russia’s top export region Krasnodar believe that the problem can be resolved, said Kuban Agro, a farming business in the region.

“It’s too early to talk about a decline in the harvest due to unfavourable weather, as the weather in October could favour the sowing campaign,” a company representative said.

Kuban Agro said it has not started its winter grains sowing because of the abnormally rainy and cold September but expects to about Oct. 7 if the weather improves.

“If the weather is favourable, winter grains could be seeded on the intended area in time,” consultancy UkrAgroConsult said.

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