Thirsty Wheat Fields in Russia Delay Planting for Winter Crop

September 21, 2015 08:30 AM

The next Black Sea wheat crop is getting off to a rough start as dry weather forces farmers to delay sowing seeds.

Much of Ukraine and west-central Russia have received less than half the normal amount of rain since early August, and little is forecast for at least the next week, according to MDA Weather Services. Ukrainian farmers sowed almost 40 percent less winter rapeseed than originally intended, and the optimal planting window has passed, the country’s agriculture minister said. While there are still a few weeks left to plant wheat, the pace is behind last year.

The growing season in Russia and Ukraine is crucial because the two countries are among the most important sellers of wheat and combined account for almost a quarter of global exports. Plants sown late in the season tend to yield less, and if the dryness continues, some farmers may leave fields empty until spring, said Daryna Kovalska, an analyst at Macquarie Group Ltd.

“Farmers are waiting for rain to return, but that hasn’t happened yet,” Kovalska said by telephone from London on Thursday. “As we approach the critical period for planting, they will need to speed up, even if there is still no rain.”

Growing Season

Wheat needs water during planting, which usually happens in autumn, so the seeds can germinate and grow. The crop then goes dormant during cold-weather months and growth resumes in the spring.

In Russia, farmers have reduced planting in the southern regions of Rostov and Volgograd, and there’s concern for crops already in the ground, said Dmitry Rylko, the director of the Institute for Agricultural Market Studies, a Moscow-based researcher. Some growing areas in the Central and Volga regions also face “big problems” because of drought, he said.

“We are generally talking about a vast area under concern,” Rylko said by e-mail Friday. Still, it’s too early in the season to tell if dryness will cut production, and yields will ultimately depend on the weather in the next few months, he said.

There’s still a lot of fieldwork left to do for wheat. Ukrainian farmers finished planting about 15 percent of their winter grain crops, mostly wheat, the Agriculture Ministry said Friday. In Russia, farmers sowed almost half of the intended winter crops, with area reaching 8.3 million hectares as of Sept. 17. That’s less than the 9.1 million hectares at the same time last year.

Time Crunch

Time is running out for rapeseed. Farmers in Ukraine, the world’s third-largest exporter, have planted 530,000 hectares, compared with the 823,000 hectares they’d originally intended, the government said Friday. If farmers don’t plant more, the country’s harvested area could be the smallest since 2006, U.S. Department of Agriculture data show.

Ukraine’s spring crops including corn and sunflowers, which are currently being harvested, probably escaped significant damage from the dry weather and heat that set in later in the summer, Agriculture Minister Oleksiy Pavlenko said last week in an interview in London.

Total grain production for the 2015-16 season will probably be between 58.5 million and 60 million tons, he said. That’s similar to last year’s level, according to Kiev-based researcher UkrAgroConsult. Winter wheat and rapeseed crops that are being planted now are for next year’s 2016-17 harvest.


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