Monday, August 2, 2010

Heat damage to Russia crop past worst, official says

Russia's worst drought for decades is set to drag on for at least the next 7 days in some areas but further serious damage to grain crops is not expected, a senior government weather forecaster said on Thursday.

In Russia, half this year’s crops are lost to drought – “Winter wheat crops are 50% of the yield, and spring crops, in some cases, are going to be virtually none.” Now the situation is complicated with forest fires and peat fires. Even before the fires broke out, many farmers in European Russia were facing bankruptcy as the drought parched grain crops and pasture lands.

Hot summers are not unusual even in northern Russia, but this year temperatures have soared to record levels. Drought in some regions of Russia, one of the world's biggest wheat exporters, has sent global prices soaring to year highs in July, putting U.S. wheat futures on track for their biggest monthly gain since 1973.

For the past two weeks temperatures across much of western Russia have soared past 35C, in the hottest and longest heatwave in decades.

Russia is also suffering what is thought to be the worst drought in more than 100 years. There has been virtually no rain since winter and crops are shriveling.

"We've had 10mm of rain, scorching hot temperatures over 35C, which have just burnt all the crops up," says Colin Hinchley, a Briton who now farms in Penza near the Volga river, in southern Russia. "Winter wheat crops are 50% of the yield, and spring crops, in some cases, are going to be virtually none."

Siberia may actually compensate for the crops lost to drought in the Volga area. Wheat and barley harvest is finished in the Southern and Central Districts, and winding down in the Volga and Ural Districts. However, in the Siberian District, total-grain harvest is lagging behind last year (72 percent complete compared to 83 percent by the same date last year), but output to date is nearly 15 percent above last year due to a 28-percent year-to-year increase in cumulative yield.

Grain traders say the rally shows signs of continuing, although analysts observed stocks built up over the last two years of the largest global wheat harvests in history should ensure sufficient supplies.

The International Grains Council confirmed the impact of drought and floods in the key Black Sea growing area as it cut its 2010/11 forecast of global wheat output by 13 million tons to 651 million tons, but said it would still be the third highest crop on record.

"A prolonged period of dry weather and high temperatures significantly reduced yield prospects in Russia, Kazakhstan, parts of Ukraine and northwestern areas of the EU, while wet weather and flooding were detrimental for crops in Canada and parts of south-eastern Europe," the IGC said on Thursday.

Anna Strashnaya, head of the Agricultural Forecasts Department at Russia's Hydrometeorological Service (Rosgidromet) said that further crop damage was likely to be limited. "I don't think any more damage may be done to grains,"

This confirms Wednesday's statement by CEO and President of SovEcon agricultural analysts Andrei Sizov Sr. "Basically, the peak of losses have been passed. What has been burned has been burned," Sizov stated on Wednesday, commenting on the Black Sea region crop losses.


Rosgidromet forecast torrential rains on Thursday and Friday in the northwest and in the central part of European Russia as well as a 5-8 degree dip in temperatures from current levels close to +40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Farenheit), she said. "Now we have to harvest what is left."

Firefighters work to extinguish fire in the Russian city of Voronezh,
Entire villages in the Mordovia and Ryazan regions in central Russia have fallen to fires, state broadcaster Rossiya 24 reported. A fire-fighting train arrived in Mordovia too late to save one village after strong winds fueled the flames.

Russia called in the army on Friday, July 30th, to combat fires sweeping across the drought-stricken European part of the country and forcing thousands of people to flee. Dmitry Medvedev, the Russian president, admitted that Russia was technically ill-equipped to combat the escalating crisis. “The situation is really difficult. Unfortunately, we do not have the capacity rapidly to solve such disasters, “ he said. He did pledge that the Russian government would provide shelter and compensation for people displaced by the fires.

At least 25 people have been killed as high winds fanned fires in forests and farmland parched by a prolonged heatwave. More than 2,170 people fled their homes as fires engulfed large swathes of the Moscow, Voronezh, Nizhnenovogorod, Vladimir and Ryazan regions.

In the regions along the Volga worst hit by the drought no rains are expected in the next 7 days and the heat of between +35 and +40 degrees Celsius will continue.

Record heat bakes Moscow as peat and forest fires blanket the city in haze. Heat records that beat previous 30-70 year-old highs were registered in July in the North-Western, Central and Volga Federal Districts, the service said.

Russian officials are very careful giving crop forecasts but this week, SovEcon, the Moscow-based agriculture consultancy, warned that Russia's grain harvest would drop by at least 20 per cent this year to 70m - 75m tons,
Men sail a boat with
burning trees seen in the background in the Russian city of Voronezh July 29, 2010.
barely enough to cover the nation’s needs. Many small farmers are slaughtering livestock, unable to afford the soaring cost of animal feed.

It is hoped that the crop situation in the North Caucasus, considered one of Russia's main breadbaskets, is benign and that this may partially cushion the damage caused to other regions.

Heat is also set to stay in the Urals. In many regions of Siberia and the Far East, where the harvesting has not yet started, abundant rains are expected in the next few days.


In neighboring Ukraine, suffering its own problems from drought and flooding, customs services set new controls on wheat exports, which traders said on Thursday could halt shipments.
A cow looks on with a burning house seen in the background in the Russian city of Voronezh, July 29, 2010.
"This effectively means a ban on wheat exports," Serhiy Stoyanov, head of Ukrainian traders' and producers' union UAC, stated, as analysts said Ukraine was positioning itself to deal with grain shortages after its troubled growing season.

"The latest actions show that the government fears a food grain shortage in the country and the controls are directed at making food grain exports more complicated and limiting sales," said Mykola Vernytsky from ProAgro consultancy.

Fellow Black Sea grain producer Romania, said on Thursday it had harvested 4.4 million tons of wheat from three quarters of the area planted but yields.
yields had dropped due to flooding and hail causing a 15 percent plunge in expected output.

Romania's southern Black Sea neighbor Bulgaria said it had exported some 51,000 tons of wheat from its new crop, mainly to Spain, Italy and Portugal, while another 110,000 tons are being loaded, an official said.

Although Bulgaria's harvest is expected to be down on last years because of the weather farmers and traders say its wheat exports may match last year's exports of 1.4 million tons, if demand remains high and prices attractive.

Reuters,,"Heat damage to Russia crop past worst, official says", accessed July 29, 2010
Financial Times, "Russia calls in army as fires escalate", accessed July 31, 2010

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