Russian Wheat Trapped Under Ice Risks Crop in Major Growing Area

February 12, 2016 11:23 AM

Russian wheat is at risk of damage from ice in one of the country’s main growing regions, according to a farm adviser and agronomist who visited fields across the area.

Solid ice and ice crusts were found across about 10 to 20 percent of the fields surveyed in the Central district’s Kursk, Voronezh and Belgorod regions, said Mike Lee, an independent consultant. Earlier snow that insulated plants from the cold has partly melted and turned to ice.

“Plants encased in ice will start to die after a week or so,” the Kursk-based agronomist said by e-mail. “Alternatively, if ice melts soon and it’s not that extensive, then there will be a limited impact.” Continued freezing and thawing may also lead to ice crystals damaging the young plants, Lee said.

Farmers in the Black Sea region plant wheat in the autumn, and the crop spends winter in dormancy before growing again in spring. Unusually warm weather last week melted part of the snow fall, which can insulate plants, before freezing conditions returned this week. The Central Federal District is a major growing area for Russia, producing 19 percent of its total wheat crop of 61.8 million metric tons in 2015, according to government data.

Since 1945

Average temperatures in the Central district were about 7 degrees Celsius higher than normal last week, according to World Ag Weather data. Conditions will stay warmer than usual in coming days before falling nearer seasonal norms next week, forecasts show. Temperatures in some regions at the beginning of February were the highest since 1945 for the time of year, according to Russia’s state weather service.

Some observers remain optimistic.

“Fortunately for our farmers we have quite a mild winter again,” said Andrey Sizov Jr., managing director at Russian agricultural researcher SovEcon. “Some risk indeed exists, but I wouldn’t be too concerned.”

Even so, satellite data indicates that some of the snow covering parts of Ukraine and southern Russia in early January had disappeared by Feb. 10.

Visible Ice

Ice was visible in Russian fields where snow had melted, as well as under the remaining snow where melt water had collected before freezing again, Lee said of his visits to the area. Insulation from snow may delay the melting of ice, while ice forming on top of snow would also potentially smother the plants, the agronomist said.

“If this was early to mid-March, I’d be less concerned, but in mid-February we still have a lot of winter to go with ice potentially in situ for another four to six weeks,” Lee said.

Crops in neighboring Ukraine also risk being damaged by ice. The danger, though, is limited to the country’s northeast, Peter Thomson, deputy chief executive officer of farm operator Ukrainian Agrarian Investments Ltd., wrote on his Twitter account.

A large part of the nation’s wheat crop wasn’t “really” in good condition before winter set in, Hemeline Macret, an analyst at Strategie Grains, said in an interview on Tuesday. She sees the possibility of a crop below 20 million tons this year from 25 million in 2015.

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