Combinables show slower growth

While Ukrainian and Russian winter wheat tonnages are both expected to be down by on last year, they are still in the top five years with the highest figures, reports independent consultant agronomist Mike Lee. Tillage Technology met up with him to find out the latest information on crops in Russia and Ukraine.

The 2018 Russian wheat harvest stood at 54.6MT (million tonnes) from 16.2Mha (million hectares) compared with 60.5MT from 14.5MHa at the same date last year, Russia’s Ministry of Agriculture reported on 22 August.

Mr Lee says: “Clearly this harvest is going to be down on last year’s record 85MT crop, and by some way according to some analysts who had been cutting forecasts as low as 65MT.

“The current pace of harvest is running 1.8MHa ahead of last year, aided by the hot, dry weather, if we align the harvest comparison on hectares cut rather than calendar date, then the we are currently looking at a 17 per cent drop which could mean a crop of 71MT.”

Nevertheless, he notes, some analysts have started adjusting forecasts up slightly. This could be because of forecast changes made by the USDA, who increased estimated tonnages up by 1.0MT to 68.0MT citing favourable conditions for spring wheat. He goes on to say that the winter wheat harvest is now finished in the South and nearly over in the Central Federal Districts, so attention will now move to the Volga region as it will now determine the final yield result.

Yields are difficult to predict this year, he points out. A cold, wet spring led to spring wheat being planted into cold, wet seedbeds, so yields are widely expected to be down. Nevertheless, once the snow melted, it warmed up quickly and the crops appeared to catch up.

“Looking at the weather data in May, I thought that some of the wheat crops would have dried up, however, when I went to look at them, they were fine.

“My previous forecast was 74.5MT (2.80T/ha on 26.6MHa), but I’m dropping this to 72.2MT based on a reduced yield of 2.64T/Ha (metric tonnes/hectare). However, this has been compensated by an increase in spring planted hectares bringing the new total cropped area to an estimated 27.3MHa.

“A 72MT crop will allow for 32MT exports but don’t be surprised if final number exceeds this; as high prices create a pull and the Russian government pushes trade to generate income.

“I know there is a lot of talk about export restrictions and while these can never be discounted, it makes little sense for Russia to impose any form of embargo at this time.”

He goes on to note that he has received a number of questions about wheat quality following pictures of spouted grains posted on Twitter.

“I have not seen anything like that but talking to combine drivers in the Central FD a few of them said sprouting had been a problem following wet weather and I have seen reports that Russian wheat quality has been downgraded, however, the only data I can find so far suggest the distribution of wheat grades looks to be similar to last year.”

Sunflower and soya also look to be in satisfactory condition and as these crops can compensate for lower plant populations, he adds. Mr Lee recently completed his latest crop tour of Ukraine through eight oblasts including Cherkasy, Chernihiv, Kiev, Kirovograd, Mykolaiv, Odessa, Poltava and Sumy.

Ukraine’s Ministry of Agriculture reported winter wheat harvest to be complete on 22 August, with only 5% of spring wheat left to be cut, he reports.

This gives a final Ukraine wheat yield of 25.1MT from 6.6MHa at a yield of 3.8T/Ha.

“The total is down 1.9MT or 7 per cent on last year although traders have signed the non-binding Memorandum of Understanding on grain exports at 16MT (8MT milling wheat, grade 1-5; 8MT feed wheat, grade 6).

“I cannot find any official word on wheat quality other than an unverified report that the Ministry said 52 per cent (13MT) is milling quality which is at odds with some traders who are saying it is nearer 45 per cent,” he says.

Barley harvest is also finished with a final figure of 7.5MT, down 1.2MT on last year, continuing the ten- year steady decline as farmers
opt to plant fewer hectares each year.

While the USDA upped their corn forecast by 1.0MT to a record 31.0MT, based largely on remote NDVI data, the Kyiv-based USDA Foreign Agricultural Service has set its forecast 18 per cent lower at 24.5MT.

Despite dry conditions at planting, spring crops - corn, sunflower and soya - looked to be in good condition. 

“For these crops, harvest has not yet started,” says Mr Lee. “While it was dry in the south and east, other areas have had reasonable rainfall.”

“Sunflower condition scores dropped slightly from our previous tour and although crops looked good they didn’t look as good as they have done in previous years and it is difficult to put a reason on why that should be so, he says.

As a result, he has reduced sunflower production slightly from the previous forecast of 12.15MT to 11.9MT.

Soya is more difficult to predict; as a lush crop does not always give the best yield and quality, he notes.

“We are now going in to the next phase; as harvest finishes, winter wheat planting is starting in southern Russia, with some oilseed rape going in as well this year in both Russia and Ukraine. “The roundabout completes its turn and starts again.”