USDA's Foreign Agriculture Service (FAS) issued a report noting that establishment conditions for Ukraine's 2012-13 winter crops have been "unusually and persistently dry." FAS elaborates, "Although the dryness did not impede planting progress, surface soil moisture in most regions of the country was insufficient for proper crop establishment and officials report that about one-third of the county’s winter grains are entering the winter in weak condition."
FAS says winter grains comprise near half of the total grain area and production in Ukraine. "According to a November 21 planting report from the Ministry of Agrarian Policy, winter grains for 2012/13 were sown on 8.05 million hectares (against 8.33 million for 2011/12), including 6.50 (6.55) million wheat, 0.33 (0.29) million rye, and 1.22 (1.25) million barley. Planting proceeded rapidly, virtually matching last year’s pace, and was complete by early November. Winter wheat accounts for about 95 percent of wheat area," FAS explains.
Precipation in autumn for 2011 was the lowest in the country's recent history. FAS explains, "Dryness prevailed throughout September, October, and November, coincident with the planting, emergence, and establishment of Ukraine’s winter crops. Surface moisture has been below normal throughout the country but the situation was probably most severe in southern Ukraine."
The distinguishing factor of this fall's dryness (compared to 2005 or 2009, for instance) is persistence, according to FAS. It elaborates, "surface moisture typically rebounds in November but this year saw no improvement in moisture conditions until early December when showers fell in eastern Ukraine, partially reversing the extended dryness."
FAS says that though winter wheat is a "remarkably resilient crop" and that friendly spring conditions can partially compensate for poor winter wheat establishment, current data indicates "that seasons of excessive fall dryness are also marked by above-average winterkill."
Though the crop has not yet suffered frost damage, consistent freezing conditions doe not usually arrive until mid-December, so plenty of concern is ahead. Also, most of Ukraine lacks protective snow cover.
Based on a Dec. 1 report from the Ministry of Agrarian Policy, "33% of the country’s winter crops are in poor condition, compared to about 6% at roughly the same time last year."
For this reason, Ukrainian ag officials expect above-average winter crop losses and "estimate that 1.5 million hectares of winter crops – about 15 percent of the sown area – may need to be replanted with spring crops."