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Russia Needs 80-Million-Tonne Crop

Russia will need to reap at least 80 million tonnes of grain in the 2011-12 crop year to cover domestic needs, Arkday Zlochevsky, president of powerful grain lobby the Russian Grain Union, said Nov. 18.

Russia, formerly the world’s third-largest wheat exporter, was hit by its worst drought in over a century this summer.

As a result the grain harvest dropped to an estimated 60.5 million tonnes from 97 million in 2009, prompting Russia to ban grain exports.

“Eighty million tonnes is the minimum volume we have to harvest,” Zlochevsky said at a news briefing. “If we harvest less, we will put further development of the agricultural sector under threat.”

Zlochevsky said that this target could be reached and even surpassed.

To harvest 80 million tonnes with a minimal yield of two tonnes per hectare, farmers will need to sow 40 million hectares of land. With over 15 million hectares already sown with winter grains, the country will need to sow an additional 25 million hectares with spring grains.

“Basically, we have a good chance of sowing this acreage and getting bigger yields. If the weather is favourable, we will have 2.2 to 2.3 tonnes per hectare,” Zlochevsky said, adding that preparations for the spring sowing have already begun.

“The regions plan to sow a little over 32 million hectares. So we will have to find another 2.5 million hectares, which will involve additional outlays, seeds, fertilizers, etc.”

He said that the exact amount of spring sowing acreage will depend on how much winter grain is lost, as some of those areas will then have to be resown with spring grains.

Winter grain losses have averaged around eight per cent in the last few years, but in the 2009-10 crop year harsh winter weather doubled that figure.

WINTER GRAIN SPROUTS

Zlochevsky said the warm weather late this autumn favoured spring sowing and sprout development more than was initially expected.

“When winter comes we can expect the plantings to be in good shape,” he said. “But let’s see how the plantings survive the winter.”

Zlochevsky also said underdeveloped infrastructure and the threat of African swine fever, a disease that has been detected in several of Russia’s southern regions and can be spread through contaminated grain, has complicated shipments of cereals from the southern breadbasket to other regions.

“Shipment volumes from Siberia are normal, but those from the south are four times lower than needed,” he said.

“A moment may come, when we will need to raise shipment volumes drastically. And this will create additional problems because of the underdeveloped infrastructure. This may prove not to be possible at all.”

SELLING GOVERNMENT STOCKS

Analysts have said that in January many consumers may have exhausted their stocks, which would push prices higher and force Russia to import grains.

Zlochevsky said the government planned to sell some of its intervention stocks to farmers worst hit by the drought at low fixed prices in the first quarter of 2011.

“We think the process of releasing the stocks will start earlier, maybe in December, as the process takes some 30-45 days to actually deliver.”

If the government starts releasing interventions stocks in January, mass grain shipments to consumers will start in March, Zlochevsky said.

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