Mild autumn weather helps East Europe restore wheat output
* Ukraine crops in mostly good condition, area up
* Russian winter forecast to be coldest for 20 years
* Bulgaria, Romania crops developing well
By Pavel Polityuk and Polina Devitt
KIEV/MOSCOW, Dec 6 (Reuters) - Mild and wet weather autumn weather in most Black Sea countries is likely to help the major wheat-exporting region increase its winter wheat harvest in 2013 after drought cut output this year, analysts said.
The outlook for Russia is not undermined by forecasts for the country to see its coldest winter in 20 years, as snow is expected to protect crops.
The region's main growers - Russia, Ukraine, Romania and Bulgaria - have completed the sowing of the 2012 winter wheat crop and have kept the planting area at last's year level or reduced it slightly.
Even a smaller sowing area could bring a higher harvest.
Russian officials expect a good winter grain crop despite the forecast cold winter, a decreased sowing area and the fact that a higher percentage of winter grain plantings than the historical average is in poor condition this year.
Hopes for a good harvest are based on conditions in the Volga and the Central regions, which are shaping up to be better than last year's.
The plantings deemed to be in a poor state in Russia's South region amounted to 12 percent, above the average 7.6 percent seen in 2007-2011, a table from the Hydrometcentre weather forecasting service showed last week.
In Russia as a whole, grain plantings in a poor state are at 8 percent, up from last year's 6 percent. Winter wheat accounts for 40 to 50 percent of Russia's total wheat planting area and about 80 percent of its output of all winter grains.
"Winter of 2012/13 is expected to be the coldest in 20 years," Hydrometcentre director Roman Vilfand said. Temperatures in the European part of the country are expected to be normal in December-January and below usual levels in February.
"We expect weather conditions for the wintering to be normal as snow covering is already quite high and is not expected to decline," Vilfand was quoted as saying on the forecaster's website www.meteoinfo.ru.
Russia has almost finished its sowing campaign and is expected to sow 16 million hectares to winter grain, 0.8 million hectares fewer than last year.
"With normal wintering conditions, a significant part of plantings in a poor state will become better during spring," SovEcon agricultural analysts said on their website www.sovecon.ru.
"But even if we see the most favourable conditions for wintering, the sown area will be significantly lower than during the 2008/09 season, when Russia harvested 97 million tonnes of grain."
Ukraine, which enlarged its winter wheat sowing area by about 2.5 percent this year, could increase wheat output in 2013 after drought cut production in 2012 by a third, forecasters said.
"Crops are mostly good and there is only 12 percent of weak and unsprouted crops. In some cases in the past we had even 20 percent of such crops," said Tetyana Adamenko, head of the state weather forecasting centre's agriculture department.
"According to our monitoring, 60 percent of crops are in excellent condition and ready for winter. The potential yield exceeds the average level. About 30 percent of crops are in normal state. We see no reason for concern," she added.
Ukraine's Agriculture Minister Mykola Prysyazhnyuk said this week that meteorological conditions for autumn vegetation of winter crops this year were much better than in the past.
According to the ministry's data, only 7 percent of the sprouted winter wheat was in a weak condition against 34 percent at the same date in 2011.
Analysts say poor crops are located mostly in the east of the country, which is not a main grower.
"The weather was dry in Crimea, Luhansk, Kherson and parts of Donetsk and Zaporizhzhya regions, resulting in poor crop condition in many areas," UkrAgroConsult said in a statement.
"Because of drought, sprouts have not emerged on 500,000 hectares in Ukraine, which is a far smaller area than 2 million hectares at the same date last year," the consultancy said.
BULGARIA, ROMANIA, HUNGARY
Despite a dry autumn, Bulgarian farmers have planted more fields to wheat than a year ago, on an area slightly above 1.1 million hectares versus 1.03 million hectares a year earlier.
Recent showers and mild weather have compensated for dryness in early autumn and the plantings are developing well, said the chairman of the Bulgarian Grain Producers, Angel Vukadinov.
"At the moment, we are optimists for next year's crop. But for a good harvest we would need mild winter with a lot of snow coverage," he said.
Romania also indicated its crops were in better condition.
"All grains sown in Romania's main cereal producing regions, wheat, barley, two-row barley, have already sprung," deputy agriculture minister Daniel Botanoiu said.
Romania has put 1.9 million hectares under wheat or 96 percent of the programme.
Autumn wheat was sown to 1.11 million hectares as of Nov. 26 in Hungary, 2.5 percent higher than last year, but broadly in line with the long-term average of about 1 million hectares.
Autumn barley was sown to 196,000 hectares, also slightly above an original plan for 194,000 hectares, the Hungarian Research Institute for Agricultural Economics said. (Writing by Pavel Polityuk, Additioanl reporting by Tsvetelia Tsolova in Sofia, Gergely Szakacas in Budapest and Radu Marinas in Bucharest; Editing by Anthony Barker)
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