Black Sea region starts grain sowing with positive outlook despite delays

KYIV, April 1 (Reuters) - A cold and snowy spring has led to a delay in the start of 2021 spring grain sowing in most regions of Ukraine and Russia, prompting farmers to accelerate field work to meet optimal deadlines, analysts and officials said.

Ukrainian southern regions usually begin sowing at the end of February, but this year field work started at the end of March when the snow melted and the fields dried out. Analysts said farmers in Russia had started sowing with a 10-day delay compared to the average.

Despite the delay, analysts in Russia and Ukraine say farmers are likely to have time to sow all planned areas and the state of the fields gives reason for optimism.

“The weather conditions are not bad and, in our opinion, should improve: the snow is melting gradually, there is no sharp warming,” said Andrey Sizov at agricultural consultancy Sovecon.

He said farmers had sown about 200,000 hectares of early grains, 70% less than a year ago, but the delay is unlikely to lead to problems.

Last month, Sovecon raised its forecast for Russia’s 2021 wheat crop to 79.3 million tonnes from the previously expected 76.2 million tonnes, citing favourable weather conditions.

Russia, one of the world’s largest wheat exporters, harvested 85.9 million tonnes of wheat in 2020.

Dmitry Rylko at consultancy IKAR said the spring wheat sowing area would be almost unchanged this year at about 12.6 million hectares, as well as the area under corn which could total 2.9 million hectares.

“Sowing began with a delay, but this is not critical yet, there is still time and farmers are quite optimistic, especially in the South - regarding the condition of winter crops and soil,” Rylko said.

Only five Ukrainian regions have started the 2021 grain sowing, almost one month later that in 2020, the country’s economy ministry said this week, adding that weather conditions are favourable.

Farms have seeded 106,300 hectares of wheat, barley, peas and oats as of March 25, out of an expected total spring grain planting area of around 7.5 million hectares.

Corn, Ukraine’s main grain export commodity, will dominate the 2021 spring sowing with an expected area of 5.3 million hectares.

But the area could be smaller as some farmers, having suffered from last year’s severe drought, are considering reducing corn sowing to avoid losses.

The Ukrainian economy ministry has said the 2021 grain harvest could exceed a record 75 million tonnes due to favourable weather and the excellent winter crop state.

Reporting by Pavel Polityuk in Kyiv and Olga Popova in Moscow; Editing by Jacqueline Wong