World watches Russian grain forecasts

Russia's wheat production and exports are tipped to drop this season as the global trade tunes into varying predictions.
Russia's wheat production and exports are tipped to drop this season as the global trade tunes into varying predictions.

There is a high level of conjecture about the final size of this year's wheat harvest in Russia.

Some widely varying forecasts have been released in recent weeks.

Dry weather throughout the growing season has had a dramatic impact on the nation's wheat yields, following record production last year.

Last Thursday, the Russian agricultural consultancy the Institute for Agricultural Market Studies (IKAR) reduced its 2021-22 season wheat crop forecast to 74-75 million tonnes.

Lower-than-expected yields in several regions compelled IKAR to revise its August crop wheat forecast of 77 million tonnes.

IKAR singled out Russia's Central, Volga and Ural regions as the worst hit by below-average rainfall that has led to production plummeting from 85.9 million tonnes in 2020.

The consultancy pegged the Russian barley harvest to be in the 17.5 to 18 million tonnes range, which suggests its production bias for barley was also lower - after forecasting an 18 million tonnes crop last month.

IKAR's corn production forecast is 14-14.5 million tonnes, and it predicted total Russian grain output would fall to between 117.5 and 120 million tonnes.

Russian grain exports will be 39.5-40.5 million tonnes, including 31-31.5 million tonnes of wheat, according to IKAR.

Leading consultancy and Black Sea market analyst, Sovecon, has forecast Russian wheat production will be slightly higher than IKAR's estimate - at 75.4 million tonnes.

At 33.9 million tonnes, its wheat export forecast is also higher.

Although, the export tax continues to play havoc with Russia's competitiveness into some traditional high volume markets.

As a result, Sovecon expects an extended export program - stretching well into the second half of the 2021-22 marketing year, which started on July 1.

The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) is setting the low mark this year.

Its current Russian wheat production forecast of 72.5 million tonnes is 15 per cent lower than its final 2020-21 output of 85.35 million tonnes.

The USDA has pegged exports at 35 million tonnes, which seems high considering domestic consumption is about 40 million tonnes.

This pushes ending stocks down to just below 10 million tonnes.

But this is still slightly higher than the average of the past four years at 9.75 million tonnes.

At the high end of wheat production estimates is the Russian Grain Union (RGU).

It reportedly raised its harvest forecast last week from 76 million tonnes to 78-78.5 million tonnes, indicating the yield gap compared to last season was not as high as expected.

It expects more favourable production outcomes as the harvest moves into the Siberian spring wheat regions, which is contrary to market reports suggesting additional abandonment of spring wheat areas due to meagre yields.

As a result of the production upgrade, RGU is now calling wheat exports for the 2021-22 marketing year in the 35.5-36 million tonnes range.

This is higher than its previous forecast of 34 million tonnes.

The RGU has the total Russian crop pegged at 119.5 million tonnes, which is up from 118 million tonnes in its previous update.

The Russian winter and spring crop harvests are now about 90 per cent complete, and about 24.4 million hectares have been covered to date.

The Russian Ministry of Agriculture has reported that there is 97.2 million tonnes of grain in the bin, including 70.7 million tonnes of wheat and 17.3 million tonnes of barley.

According to Russian Federation Customs Service Statistics, wheat exports in the first seven months of 2021 were 14.1 million tonnes, which was down 6.2 per cent year-on-year.

But the value of those exports increased by 12.3pc to US$3.6 billion.

This is a reflection of higher global grain values in 2021.

In July - the first month of the new marketing year - Russia exported 1.8 million tonnes of wheat, which was down 20.9pc year-on-year and down 20.7pc compared to June.

This highlights the impact of the export tax on shipments in June, as the trade scrambled to move as much wheat as possible before the new tax formula came into effect in July.

Meanwhile, Russian farmers are expected to plant less winter wheat this year as the autumn planting program ramps-up.

A record area was planted last year.

But a combination of below average rainfall to date, displeasure with the current export tax regime and a switch to oilseeds are contributing to the decrease, according to local reports.

Additionally, extensive replanting of failed winter cropping areas in Russia's Central and Volgograd regions with spring wheat varieties means the harvest of these paddocks will be much later than usual.

That makes it highly unlikely these will all get harvested and then replanted for the new crop campaign before the winter sets in, and so halting field activity.

Russian farmers prefer to plant winter wheat over spring wheat, as it is much higher yielding and generally less susceptible to adverse summer weather.

Accordingly, winter wheat typically makes up about 70pc of the total area planted to wheat.

That said, winter wheat is not suited to the Urals and Siberia, as the winters are long and extreme and the growing season is extremely short.

While recent rains have improved the seeding outlook, the winter planting program is still lagging behind last year's pace.

As of September 14, about 7.8 million hectares had been sown to winter crop - compared to 8.2 million hectares at the same time in 2020.

Sovecon is calling the new crop winter wheat area lower by as much as 1 million hectares, which is down 5.6pc compared to the 17.8 million hectares planted in 2020.

IKAR is a little more conservative, calling the area reduction at only 0.5 million hectares.

The counter-argument here is solid farm profitability.

Much to the chagrin of Moscow, higher global wheat prices have countered the effect of the export tax on farm gate wheat values.

This means that returns for most farm businesses remain quite buoyant relative to recent seasons.

Farmers will plant some of their crop dry, but it will more likely be a lack of soil moisture - rather than the export tax - that has the greatest influence on the final wheat area this year.

This story Russian harvest winding down as the planting program accelerates first appeared on The Land.