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Commodity Intelligence Report
November 17, 2009

Russia:  Conditions Improving for 2010/11 Winter Grains

The planted area for 2010/11 winter grains in Russia is likely to surpass last year’s level despite persistent dryness throughout the sowing campaign in the Volga and Central Districts, which together account for about half of Russia’s winter grain area. Although the drought reportedly hampered crop emergence and establishment – and necessitated replanting in some fields – timely rainfall in early October reversed the dryness in these regions and winter crops likely escaped irreversible damage in most areas. Conditions in the key Southern District – the last district to be planted – were unfavorably dry during most of October but have improved following precipitation in early November.

Winter grains comprise between 25 and 35 percent of total grain area in Russia, and 40 to 50 percent of production. Wheat is the major winter grain and accounts for about 80 percent of total winter grain area, compared to about 15 percent for rye and 5 percent for barley. (Around 95 percent of Russia’s barley is spring barley.) Virtually all of Russia’s winter wheat and barley, and almost 90 percent of the rye, is grown in European Russia, chiefly in the Southern, Central, and Volga Districts. Winter grains are inherently more productive than spring grains; winter-grain yields typically surpass spring-grains yields by 60 to 80 percent. The sowing campaign for winter grains begins in late August, in the Central and Volga Districts, and progresses southward to the Southern District, where planting is finished no later than mid-November. The harvest of winter grains typically begins in late June in the southernmost growing regions and is largely complete by late August in the north.

Sowing Progress

Weekly planting-progress data from the Ministry of Agriculture indicate that fall sowing has proceeded at a more rapid pace than last year.  Planting is usually complete by mid-November.Winter grain planting is essentially complete in the Central and Volga Districts of Russia, and approaching completion in the Southern District. According to data from the Ministry of Agriculture, which reports planted area on all categories of farms, 17.8 million hectares of winter grains were sown by November 11, compared to a reported 17.0 million by the same date last year. SovEcon, an independent commodity-analysis group in Moscow, estimates that sown area on agricultural enterprises had reached 14.1 million hectares by November 3, compared to 13.6 million last year. (Agricultural enterprises planted 75 percent of total Russian grain area in 2009.) Planting-progress data from both sources do not distinguish between individual grains, but report only total winter grains. Although there are slight inconsistencies between the two data sources, both indicate a year-to-year increase of 4 to 5 percent. Planting typically continues through early November.

In the Volga District, where fall sowing is finished, Ministry data show winter grain up by 18 percent from last year. Planting is complete in the Central District as well, with reported area up 6 percent from last year. Although sowing in the Southern District is not yet finished, the cumulative planting data to date suggest that total Russian winter grain area will likely match or slightly surpass last year, which was marked by the highest Russian winter grain area in five years and the highest winter wheat area on record. (Total winter grain area has declined over the past 15 to 20 years due to a significant contraction in rye area.)

Dry Conditions for Emergence and Establishment

Moisture conditions were unfavorably dry for winter grains during and after the sowing campaign in the Central and Volga Districts. Surface-wetness data (SSMI) derived from microwave satellite imagery indicate excessive dryness in the southern Central District (including Kursk, Tambov, and Voronezh oblasts) and in Saratov and Volgograd oblasts in the Volga Valley during September, when winter crops are totally dependent on surface moisture for germination and establishment. Timely October precipitation replenished surface moisture in the Central and Volga Districts, but subsurface moisture reserves remain below normal.

Dryness prevailed throughout October in the Southern District, which is the most important winter grain region in Russia and the last to be planted.  Although cumulative precipitation from August through October was about average, most of the rain fell during a brief period in early September.  The region received meager precipitation during most of September and October and surface moisture was significantly below normal for most of that time.  (About two-thirds of the Southern District's winter grains are sown between mid-September and mid-October.)  The situation improved following beneficial rainfall in early November which largely reversed previous eight weeks of dryness.  As is the case in the Central and Volga Districts, subsurface moisture is low but winter crops rely on surface moisture at this stage in their development so depleted subsurface moisture does not pose an immediate threat. (View weekly surface-moisture maps for September 6, September 13, September 20, September 27,October 4, October 11, October 18, October 25, November 1, November 8, and November 15.)

Microwave satellite imagery indcates lower-than-normal surface wetness in the Southern and Volga Districts during the final week in October.Excessive fall dryness alone will not necessarily result in a significant or irreversible loss in potential winter crop yield. Favorable subsequent weather can compensate for early-season dryness. Assessing the impact of fall drought on final winter-grain output is difficult, however, because the damage caused by dryness cannot be isolated from the damage caused by other factors such as low winter temperatures. Conditions during the fall of 2005 (for 2006/07 winter grains) were even drier than this year, but winter crops were also subject to bitterly cold weather during late January and early February, with minimum temperatures dropping as low as minus 30 degrees Celsius. About 35 percent of the area planted in the fall failed to survive the winter, due to either fall drought or the winter frost. Although abundant precipitation throughout the remainder of the growing season enabled the surviving winter grains to achieve above-average yields, winter-wheat production dropped by 10 percent from the previous year.

Low Winter Losses in Recent Years

In a typical year, between 5 and 10 percent of the area planted to winter crops are destroyed by excessive fall drought, severe frost, persistent ice crusting (which causes suffocation of the plants), or repeated freeze/thaw cycles (which results in “heaving,” whereby the roots become exposed to the air and the plant eventually dies). Collectively these weather-related crop losses are referred to as winterkill. Overall winterkill for Russia has been relatively low for the past three years -- substantially less than 10 percent. Losses are typically lowest in the Southern District, averaging about 7 percent over the past 9 years and highest in the Volga District, with average losses of about 20 percent.


                 Winter losses were high for 2003/04 winter crops (planted fall 2002) and 2006/07 winter crops (planted fall 2005).  Both seasons were marked by fall dryness and severe winter frosts.

Current USDA area and production estimates for grains and other agricultural commodities are available on IPAD’s Agricultural Production page, or at PSD Online.

For more information contact Mark Lindeman | | (202) 690-0143
USDA-FAS, Office of Global Analysis

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