Drought and rains still blight Black Sea wheat crops

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Drought in Russia, Ukraine and Kazakhstan looked set to continue for at least another week, while heavy rainfall has drenched Romania and Bulgaria.

Heat will hammer Russia for the next 10 days, a top weather official said, and seeding for the winter grain crops is in danger if there is no rain after that.

The drought could slash Russia’s 2010 grain output by nearly 40 percent to 60 million tons, and the winter wheat sowing campaign could begin to be in jeopardy if there is no rain during or right after the next 10 days.

Ukraine forecasters said extremely hot weather is likely to extend for at least another seven days.

Ukraine’s leading grain production areas in the east and in the south had rainstorms in early summer and drought in July.

Ukraine’s Farm Ministry forecasts that the 2010 wheat crop could fall about 19 percent to 17 million tons from 20.9 million in 2009. Analysts say drought may also hit Ukrainian late grain crops like maize.

In Kazakhstan, dry weather has not seriously affected the three northern provinces where approximately 80 percent of the country’s grain is grown. Harvesting will begin around one week from now.

But drought has damaged crops on more than 50 percent of the sown area in western regions, most notably West Kazakhstan and Aktobe provinces, although their contribution to the overall grain crop is traditionally much smaller.

Kazakhstan expects to harvest 13.5 million tons of grain in 2010, about 35 percent less than its record haul of 20.8 million tons in 2009, but only slightly below the average of the last few years.

Heavy rain in Romania is likely to have cut forecasts for 6.7 million tons of wheat this year.

Latest data show farmers have so far harvested 1.55 million hectares at average yields of 2.8 tons which would likely lead to overall wheat production of 5.8 million tons in 2010. This compares with 5.2 million in 2009.

The weather has improved since late July, and harvesting is in full swing and is expected to finish this week.

In Bulgaria, extensive rains in July delayed the wheat harvest and cut 2010 crop estimates to 3.6-3.7 million tons from an initial forecast of around 4 million tons.

Latest data from the agriculture ministry showed the harvest is now almost complete after farmers reaped 3.56 million tons of wheat from 93.5 percent of sown area.

Additional reporting by Pavel Polityuk in Kiev, Robin Paxton in Almaty, Radu Marinas in Bucharest and Irina Ivanova in Sofia; Writing by Aleksandras Budrys; editing by Sue Thomas