UPDATE 1-Russia grain lobby says winter crop conditions tough

Wed Jan 16, 2013 9:38am EST

* Says 1.2 mln sown hectares can be "written off"

* Grain imports seen at 1.5 mln T by the end of the season (Combines stories)

By Melissa Akin

MOSCOW, Jan 16 (Reuters) - Weather conditions have been difficult for Russia's winter grain crop due to dry conditions during sowing and to cold snaps in some regions in December, the head of Russia's Grain Union said on Wednesday.

The conditions described by Grain Union head Arkady Zlochevsky are broadly similar to those last winter, which preceded a fall in Russia's gross grain harvest to just over 70 million tonnes in 2012 from 94 million tonnes in 2011, though Zlochevsky cautioned it was too early to estimate the damage.

"Of over 15 million hectares sown (to winter grains), about 1.2 million can be written off because of dry weather conditions. They just did not sprout," he told a news conference. "They will be resown to spring grain."

He added, "How will they overwinter from the point of view of the December cold snaps in several regions? It is too early to say, but it does add risks. More than a million hectares were without snow cover, and in low lying areas the temperature was minus 12 or 13 degrees, even minus 15 (Celsius)."

The conditions could lead to a drop in yields or to winterkill, he said. "We'll be able to see in the spring."

RUSSIA TO IMPORT GRAINS

Analysts say Russia is poised to import grain to make up for volumes exported in the first half of the July 2012 to June 2013 marketing season.

Zlochevsky said Russia at the moment did not require imports and that they would probably total 1.5 million tonnes by the end of the season, the low end of his forecast range.

"Worries about a deficit are unfounded. Prices are above world prices, and the market is clearly overheated. This has brought exports to a grinding halt," Zlochevsky told reporters.

"Importing is in some kind of frozen state, even though economics allow it."

He said corn exports had fallen off along with the decline in wheat exports, which amounted to 9.77 million tonnes for the first six months of the 2012/13 marketing year.

He said Russia would end the marketing year with 10 million to 11 million tonnes of stocks, in line with food security guidelines set by the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation. (editing by Jane Baird)