Russia: High Potential Yield for Siberian Wheat
Russia's wheat harvest is estimated to rebound significantly from last year's 10-year low, based on higher winter-wheat output in European Russia and a high potential yield in Siberia. Specialists from the USDA Foreign Agricultural Service, including personnel from the Office of Agricultural Affairs in Moscow, conducted crop-assessment travel to western Siberia during the last half of August. The team examined field conditions and met with farmers, agricultural officials, and private commodity analysts in order to determine wheat-harvest prospects for 2013/14. Although crops were observed to be in very good condition and grain producers are expecting high yields, late planting and delayed crop development have increased the risk of potential harvest losses. Russia wheat production is estimated at 54.0 million tons against 37.7 million last year, when severe drought sharply reduced spring-wheat yield in the Volga, Ural, and Siberian Districts.
The amount of winter grains sown last fall for harvest in 2013 (the 2013/14 crop) was about 2 percent lower than the previous year. Winter losses, however, were considerably lower, and the surviving winter-grain area was 6 percent higher than for 2012/13. According to Rosstat data, the surviving area of winter wheat for 2013/14 (reported by Rosstat as final sown area) is 12.33 million hectares compared to 11.86 million last year. Virtually all of the country’s winter wheat is grown in European Russia, including the Central, Southern, North Caucasus, and Volga Districts. The harvest of Russia’s winter wheat crop was essentially finished by mid-August. Preliminary data from the Ministry of Agriculture suggests net winter-wheat output of 34 to 35 million tons, against 25.5 million last year when severe drought reduced yield sharply in the Southern and North Caucasus Districts.
Despite significant planting delays in Siberia, the final sown area of spring wheat for 2013/14 nearly matched last year's level. Rosstat reports that spring wheat was planted on 12.77 million hectares (down 1 percent from last year’s 12.89 million), including 6.0 (6.1) million hectares in the Siberian District, 3.7 (3.8) million in the Volga District, 2.5 (2.5) million in the Ural District, and 0.3 (0.4) million in the Central District. Wet weather during May impeded the planting of spring wheat in Siberia by one to two weeks. Cool weather during June further delayed crop development, but the Siberian wheat crop benefited from generous precipitation during the growing season. Locals remarked that this season has been the wettest in living memory, and the FAS crop-assessment team observed outstanding crop conditions and high potential yield in Novosibirsk and Altai in mid-August. The team also observed frequent lodging, but the lodging typically was limited to small areas and was not considered to be a serious problem. Some farmers jokingly welcomed the lodging, maintaining that it is an indicator of high yield.
Crop development was estimated to be two to three weeks behind normal in late August, and many producers indicated that they will need to employ two-stage harvesting this year due to the late development and uneven ripening of the wheat. In two-stage harvesting, the wheat is first cut and placed in windrows, which allows the less-mature grain to dry while reducing the risk of shattering (premature dropping of the grain from the head) of the already-dry grain. With dry weather, three or four days in the windrow will enable the grain to become sufficiently dry. The combine then makes a second pass through the field, threshing the grain in the windrows. Two-stage harvesting is costly and time-consuming and is used only when wet conditions prevent the use of direct (single-stage) harvesting. Farmers further reported that a considerable share of the Siberian spring wheat will likely be harvested at a higher-than-normal moisture content this year and that additional drying will be required to reduce the moisture of the grain to a level suitable for storage.
As of September 11, wheat harvest was nearly 30 percent complete in the Ural District and about 17 percent complete in the Siberian District. Reported yield to date is up 33 percent from last year in the Ural District and up 75 percent in the Siberian District, but note that last year's yields were sharply reduced by severe drought. Harvest was 75 percent finished in the Volga District, but the harvested area includes over 2 million hectares of winter wheat; spring-wheat harvest in the Volga District is about 55 percent complete. Reported final output will hinge largely on the weather during the remainder of September, when a large share of Siberian wheat typically is harvested. The Siberian District can harvest as much as two million hectares in one week under ideal circumstances, but one million hectares per week is a more typical pace. Although late harvest increases the risk of weather-related losses in the event of persistently wet weather or early snow, the early-September weather in Siberia has been ideal for crop maturation and harvest, and the current USDA wheat-production estimate of 54.0 million tons assumes that harvest losses this year will not be significantly higher than average.
The directors of large agricultural enterprises occasionally make remarkable claims about the high efficiency of imported grain combines compared to the aging machinery that it has replaced, statements that certainly contain an element of truth but also are subject to mild exaggeration. The director of a 12,000-hectares enterprise in southern Novosibirsk, for example, reported that 9 imported combines have replaced 76 Soviet-era units. Although inventories have declined steadily and sharply over the past 20 years, the overall efficiency of Russia’s fleet of agricultural equipment has improved over the past ten years with the increasing purchase of imported machines by large, affluent agricultural enterprises and holding companies. One large dealer of imported equipment in Novosibirsk estimates that roughly half of the territory’s grain area is harvested with modern equipment, both domestic and imported, and that the share is increasing every year. Many farms, however, are still forced to use old machinery due to financial constraints. The ability of farmers to minimize harvest losses this year will depend in part on the level of availability of serviceable harvesting machinery.
Current USDA area and production estimates for grains and other agricultural commodities are available on IPAD’s Agricultural Production page, or at PSD Online.