Tuesday, 10 April 2018

First Black Sea Crop Tour of the season completed

We have completed the first Black Sea Crop Tour of 2018 and I don't mind admitting it was a tough one.

It started off well in southern Russia, great weather conditions, big beautiful fields of wheat, dry soil and balmy temperatures meant crop touring was a pleasure.

Then we turned north and that's when things turned challenging.

We left Rostov nice and early to cover the 800km we had planned for that day to Kursk, a necessary route if we want to cross into Ukraine as border crossings further south are either closed or not considered safe. 

It took us five hours to cover 100km because...well I'm not entirely sure because of what, there was a bit of snow and a few minor roadworks but nothing you would consider capably of causing a 100km tailback.

Then the weather really started to deteriorate, freezing rain, frozen roads, near zero visibility and we still had 700km to go to get to Crop Tour HQ.

We pressed on arriving late in the evening for much appreciated food and rest before heading out the following morning to cross the border in to Ukraine on foot, dragging our possessions through the snow like defeated Napoleonic foot soldiers.

While the border crossing was freezing (it's all outside with no protection from the wind), it was fairly straight forward, the guards even cracked a few jokes and didn't seem too phased I had two chaps from Australia with me who were tagging along to get a view on Black Sea farming.

Conditions in Ukraine didn't get much better but at least the snow filled in some of the pot holes making travelling slightly less bone shattering.

We made Kyiv that evening and Odessa the following day with no let up in the weather.

Fortunately(?) I had to drive back to Kyiv and surprisingly snow had started melting overnight making some crop observations possible.

Our route covered 3,300km through Krasnodar, Stavropol, Rostov, Voronezh and Kursk in Russia and Sumy, Poltava, Kyiv, Cherkassy, Kirovograd and Odessa in Ukraine and we did meet with several farmers and traders to discuss their views on the season so far.

All in, using what observations and results we could make, having our autumn tour data to help and keeping an eye on crops throughout the winter we have been able to project a wheat forecast for Russian and Ukraine and the latest reports are now available.

If this is of interest to you or you would like to receive our reports then drop us an email at blackseacroptour@gmail.com and we will arrange an invoice, season long service is priced at £375.

We tour again in May to update our wheat forecast and assess the post planting condition of the spring crops, hopefully under less challenging conditions.

Sunday, 4 March 2018

The first Black Sea Crop Tour of 2018 starts in two weeks

The first Black Sea Crop Tour of 2018 kicks off in two weeks time on 19 March.

Before then however, I’m busy on a couple of other projects that take me to Moldova next week and something to do with sugar beet in Russia the week after.

Consequently, the blog is likely to remain silent until the tour is over, numbers have been crunched, reports written and emailed out to our very kind, wise, successful and hugely attractive clients.

If you too would like to be successful and hugely attractive, drop me an email (blackseacroptour@gmail.com) to register your interest in signing up to receive our season long and impartial crop updates from the Black Sea region.

In addition to the reports, which include our crop forecasts, you will gain access to our members only twitter account where I will post frequent updates, pictures and video’s during the tour, so you will be able to follow our findings, opinions and results as it happens.

Be the first to know with certainty the real condition and prospects for this year’s Black Sea wheat crop.

Wednesday, 28 February 2018

This week's Black Sea agribusiness news in brief

Russia’s Deputy Minister of Agriculture spoke with representatives from Russia’s freight and rail transportation business this week and told them that this year’s grain exports would be over 45MMT.

He also said the strategy now is not to buy up and store, but to create conditions for the export of surplus, you have been warned.

He pointed out that domestic consumption, which stands at 72MMT, is increasing at about 1MMT per year, all the rest is export potential, but the number of grain-wagons is insufficient to ensure the uninterrupted transportation of grain by rail.

To support exports the Russian Ministry of Agriculture implemented financial support on grain rail transport and have currently agreed reduced tariffs on 756KMT of grain.

In the current Marketing Year, as of February 21, Russia had exported 33.5MMT of grain, up 40% on the same period last year (24.0MMT), including 26.2MMT of wheat (+ 41%).

Low temperatures continue to make the news across the Black Sea and Europe and will undoubtedly have an impact on yield prospects, the question is by how much?

I had a phone call earlier this week with George Auger, an UK independent agricultural advisor, who had just returned from southern Russia, he said in the Stavropol region it was noticeable how wheat looked thin, burnt and was suffering with the low temperatures and lack of snow although further north into Rostov things didn’t look too bad.

I also received updates from central Russia this week that showed wheat nicely tucked up under a recent blanket of snow, although we have some concerns that beneath the snow wheat is locked up in a layer of ice from the previous thaw.  While only 400km further south in Ukraine, there is no snow and wheat is fully exposed to the elements.

Clearly the impact of weather across the Black Sea region is variable and is continuing to develop but we will have a fuller picture once we complete or annual crop tour later in March.

Elsewhere, Russian farmers have purchased 7.5% more fertiliser January and February this year than the same period in 2017 and probably would have started applying it by now if weather conditions had improved.

Last week we reported Ukraine farmers had started applying fertiliser to overwintered crops, this week it's official with the Ministry of Agriculture reporting the first 592KHA of fertiliser had gone on in 16 regions of Ukraine.

Russia’s Ministry of Agriculture report January 2018 pig live weight production amounted to 308.4KMT, 12.6% more than a year earlier.

They also report January live weight production of poultry was 521KMT which is 8.9% more than in the previous year and the production of eggs was 3.1 billion, up 1.5% on last year.

On Monday China’s General Administration for Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine (GAQSIQ) lifted a ban on wheat imports from six Russian regions which had been in force since 2016.

The ban was lifted for wheat supplies from Novosibirsk, Amur, Chelyabinsk, Omsk, Krasnoyarsk and Altai regions of Russia.

EU announced a project to support cross-border cooperation between agricultural producers in Ukraine and Moldova to promote innovative farming methods and to improve quality of products.

I’m off to Moldova next week (no blog update), I’ll let you know about the quality of products and any innovative farming methods I see.

Thursday, 22 February 2018

Cold weather elevates risk to Black Sea wheat

Russia’s Minister from Nizhny Novgorod region reports the condition of winter crops do not give him any cause for concern and they are good and satisfactory.

Over in Ukraine and the Ministry of Agriculture report 87% of winter crops in good or satisfactory condition and give a cautious prediction that winter dormancy was without significant losses.

The French Agricultural office reported that 84% of winter wheat was in good or excellent condition compared to 95% in early December and 92% last year.

This might all be about to change next week as very low temperatures are forecast for Europe and the Black Sea. 

Parts of Black Sea farmland currently has little or no snow and plants had broken dormancy earlier this month so it’s safe to assume some crops will now be at elevated risk of damage from the cold.

I don’t think we will see wholesale crop death, but I do believe it will put a dent in yield prospects which had been running high after a good planting season and easy winter up to this point.

Our first crop tour of the 2018 season kicks off 19th March, so we will be well placed to assess the condition of Black Sea wheat, see if there is any cold damage and what the implications might be (sign up to the crop tour service to receive copies of our findings).

Ukraine farmers in the south of the country had started applying fertilizer to over wintered crops, which is about 2-3 weeks early than usual but then stopped due to wet weather.

We have no reports or sightings of farmers applying fertiliser in southern Russia, recent rain there made land unfit to travel but crops are actively growing in Krasnodar and Stavropol so given a dry spell (which is forecast) we anticipate any time in the next week which will be about a week earlier than last year.

This week's Black Sea agribusiness news in brief

Russian wheat exports hit their highest weekly total since before Christmas because, they say, weather issues subsided.

My information tells me the weather in January was pretty good, so it was more likely the annual winter holidays that covers most of the month that was to blame for sluggish trade.

Preferential rail subsidies for grain transportation continue to gain traction in Russia with rates now agreed on 656KMT of grain.

EcoFarming LLC have signed agreement with Moscow authorities to build a new 8,000 head goat dairy and processing complex to eventually produce 4,000 tons of milk, 400 tons of cheese and 100 tons of meat.

Agrokultura Group will receive a 25% subsidy for the construction of the third stage of a greenhouse complex in Kashira near Moscow which will be used for the production of tomatoes, peppers and eggplants.

Ukraine’ Min of Ag report on spring sowing preliminary data; the 2018 crop area is comparable to last year and is expected to reach 27.2MHA including 14.6MAH (54%) of grain crops which they say "corresponds to the norm of the optimal ratio of crops in crop rotations" (what the heck is the norm of the optimal ratio?).

The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) is promoting Ukraine grain logistics with a $50M loan to support Nibulon Group’s ongoing investment programme which includes three new river terminals; expansion of fleet (floating crane, tugboats, barges, dredging vessel); 42KMT storage facility; barge quay and a new railway at Mykolaiv.

Ukraine's Odessa region is to develop green tourism by offering visitors tours to authentic Ukrainian villages and farms, as well as sightseeing in grain and lavender fields.

Apparently Ukraine has lavender fields although none of us have ever seen any.

UK National Farmers Union elect new President

This week the UK National Farmers Union (NFU) held their annual conference and elected Minette Batters as their new President, with Stuart Roberts Vice President and Guy Smith Deputy President.

At the same conference the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Michael Gove gave a well-polished speech that essentially reiterated what he said at the Oxford Farming Conference in January; that he had farmers backs through the forthcoming difficult EU exit transition period and you could trust him.

Considering he was a leading champion for Brexit it was odd he now said he wanted to solve the shortage of labour to pick fruit and veg created by Brexit by allowing foreign farm workers to stay.  It was even odder the delegates applauded him when he said this. 

I will never understand politics.

Wednesday, 14 February 2018

This week's Black Sea agribusiness news in brief

According to Reuters, Chinese corn buyers are cancelling orders from the US and are switching to Ukraine as Beijing tightens controls on processing GM varieties.  

It was unclear how many shipments had been affected, but one source said up to four cargoes totalling 210KMT and worth about $40 million had been cancelled last month.

The World Bank announced it is rolling out crop receipts across Ukraine to expand access to finance for small scale farmers.  

Crop receipts are a pre-harvest financial instrument which allows farmers to use future harvests as collateral allowing them to purchase seeds, fertiliser and chemicals.

The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) have also agreed to provide financial assistance in Ukraine, this time for the construction of the first stage of a 72MW solar plant on the site of a former chemical plant in Lviv, Ukraine.  

I’m sure solar power makes sense in Ukraine but if it was me, I’d fund the development of biomass production around each major conurbation which could then provide power and central heating.

Russia has presented a new doctrine on food security to the Public Council at the Ministry of Agriculture with the Chair of Council saying, "This is a strategic document that will determine the development of agriculture for the next 10 years, which will make it possible to take agriculture to a new level."

The Director who presented the doctrine said it includes measures to stimulate development of exports, improve quality of food, increase volume of grain processing, formation of production clusters, development of agricultural cooperation and a network of wholesale distribution. 

It sounds like it could be significant, and we should all endeavour to get a copy, translate it and read it.

One point of interest I did spot was an apparent U turn to previous announcements that Russia wanted to extend import substitution policy to include seeds when the Director of Department of Plant Production spoke about measures to improve the regulatory framework and procedure for importing seeds into Russia.

New Zealand’s Fonterra cooperative is to expand its business in Russia by acquiring a 49% stake in a St Petersburg-based joint venture with Foodline.  

The investment is not without controversy as it appears to indicate a change in trade policy by New Zealand after previously standing with the EU, US and others who had imposed sanctions on Russia in response to the annexation of Crimea and conflict in Ukraine.

Remote sensing of Russian and Ukraine snow conditions showed thawing across major winter wheat growing regions last week, it’s unlikely to have much impact on yield prospects at this stage as temperatures are relatively mild but we will know more in March when we kick off our first Crop Tour of the 2018 season.

Finally, on a sad and sobering note, there are no reported survivors from the Russian passenger plane, believed to be carrying 71 people, that crashed Sunday afternoon shortly after taking off from Moscow.

Thursday, 8 February 2018

Why Russian wheat might not break records this year

The Institute for Agricultural Market Studies (IKAR) pegged their latest Russian wheat forecast at a broad 73-82MMT with 32-36MMT exports in 2018/19.

To be fair, until we get an indication of spring wheat plantings when the season gets underway, none of us really have a scooby doo, but there are a couple of interesting things I heard on the grapevine this week that might make those forecasts on the optimistic side.

A group of Russian agronomists based in the south have been overheard complaining about a lack of soil moisture saying that when they dig down a metre or so the soil is bone dry.  

It was dry in the south in the late autumn and early winter and snow fall has been limited which makes me think there might be something in this but then again, a Russian agronomist digging a hole?

The other snippet I’m hearing is a lack of cash might limit how much farmers can plant; exporting wheat at competitive prices is all well and good but if it leaves you short to pay for diesel and seed for the following season it could turn out to be a short-term benefit.

I’m reliably informed of a couple of farms in Russia who have been asking around to see if anyone wants to crop some of their land this season as they are short on roubles and finance from Russian banks is all but none existent so there might be something in this.  

Watch this space.

This week's Black Sea agribusiness news in brief

Ukraine’s Ministry of Agriculture reported that as of February 7 grain exports stood at 24.7MMT including 12.5MMT of wheat, 4.0MMT of barley, 8.1MMT of corn.

Last year exports reached 43.9MMT of grain, the ministry currently forecast slightly less for this year at 41.0MMT.

Ukraine‘s Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman, announced this week that the government will allocate UAH 1 billion to promote the production of domestic agriculture machinery in 2018.

The PM also said that 25% of the cost of agriculture machinery would be compensated to those who buy Ukrainian manufactured equipment.

Sounds great but these schemes rarely result in cash being returned to farmers, usually so many hoops to jump through it becomes unworkable, but the intention to support domestic machinery manufacturing is there.

Also, this week (take a deep breath), Russia’s Director of the Department of Economics, Investments and Regulation of the Agroindustrial Complex Markets of the Ministry of Agriculture of Russia said, 134MMT of grain grown by the country this year is not the limit and he estimate the potential to be 150 million and above.

He went on to say that given increasing yields and favourable market conditions the export potential will increase to 60MMT by the year 2025.

According to Russian Ministry of Agriculture 2018 planting forecasts, canola will increase by 20% (to 1.2 million hectares) and soybean by 6.5% (to 2.7 million ha).

Last week’s snow fall thawed across Russia's southern regions of Krasnodar & Stavropol which shouldn’t be a problem as it's generally milder there that far south. 

Further north and snow thawed in Kursk and Belgorod regions (see picture) which could pose a problem as we are starting to see some superficial cold damage to forward, exposed crops which is unlikely to result in wholesale crop death but could put a dent in final yield prospects.

Wednesday, 31 January 2018

This week's Black Sea agribusiness news in brief

Russia’s Minister of Agriculture, Alexander Tkachev, said earlier this week that grain exports will about 45-47MMT in this year.
The minister went on to say to say that Russia is developing a system to support the export of agricultural products and to make it competitive at the level of advanced foreign countries.

The production of Russian agricultural products for 2014-16 has grown by more than 11% and the export of agricultural products amounted to USD 20.1 billion.

I have since seen reports, yet unverified, that the ministry is now forecasting 50MMT of exports and I also read somewhere else that Russian agricultural exports now exceed arms in terms of value.

As of 24 January, Russian grain exports stood at 29.8 million tons, up 35% on the same period last season, (wheat 23.5MMT; barley 3.6MMT; corn 2.6MMT).

On the weather front, snow continued to fall across Russia and Ukraine last week offering further protection to winter crops, as confirmed by satellite data which showed both the geographical spread and depth of snow increased.

As soon as I tweeted this “fact” I received pictures of winter wheat and canola in southern Ukraine devoid of snow and not only that, looking ready for the first application of fertiliser, underlining the importance of first hand reporting.

Then as if to underline that underline, I noticed that since the beginning of December USDA have been reporting western FSU crops as dormant; the attached picture of a no-dormant central Russian wheat plant was taken at the beginning of January. 

Russia’s Ministry of Agriculture report this week that 95% of winter grain crops are in good and satisfactory condition and give an optimistic forecast for the harvest of winter crops from the European part of the country.

Clearly, they don’t know as these figures have remained unchanged since November, but I think its fair to say Russian crops are currently in an OK condition.

We will tour Russia in March to independently verify post-winter crop condition, subscription details to follow soon.

Russia preferential railway tariff, which is part of that developing system the minister referred to, has kicked in with 295,000MT of grain to be transported from Voronezh, Kurgan, Kursk, Lipetsk, Novosibirsk, Omsk, Orenburg, Oryol, Penza, Samara, Saratov, Tambov and Ulyanovsk.

Ukraine exported 157,800MT of organic grains between Jan-Nov 2017, up 11% on the same period the year before, including 59KMT of wheat, 83KMT of corn and 11KMT of barley, with 95% going to the EU.

Beijing-based China Harbor Engineering Company (CHEC) completed the first dredging project at Ukraine's Black Sea port of Yuzhny ahead of time when they deepened the an approach channel to 16m allowing the port to serve Panamax ships.

A second dredging project is on the cards at the Yuzhny, when CHEC will increase the depth of another approach channel to create a 16m deep operational area near three berths by the end of 2019.

And finally, Russian agronomists gathered today at the All-Russian Agronomical Meeting to discuss last year’s results, the tasks ahead for implementing measures envisaged by the State, and preparation for seasonal field agricultural work in 2018.

Only one day?

Thursday, 25 January 2018

This week's Black Sea agribusiness news in brief

Snowfall across much of Russia and Ukraine’s crop growing region alleviated fears of damage to crops; there is still a chunk of winter to go but forecasts through next week show temperatures to be fine and as each week goes by the risk level diminishes.

The next thing to turn our attention to will be what might advanced crop development seen through the end of last year and early January mean to crop development come the spring? 

I now see the issue to be if Black Sea farmers will adjust agronomy programmes to take into account advanced crop (and weed) development?  Probably not.

Argentine's Minister of Agriculture met his Russian counterpart this week and reported the country has a sown 38 million hectares, of which only 65% ​​uses fertilisers and therefore he's interested in importing Russian fertiliser.

Russia's Minister of Agriculture responded by saying there is potential for increasing trade between the two countries and "We are ready to increase the export of Russian agricultural products to the Argentine market and meet other import requirements of Argentina".

Elsewhere and a new pork and poultry manufacturing hub, oriented towards exports to Asia, will soon be established in the Russian Far East according to Rusagro Group of Companies.

Russia’s 2017 milk production is up 3.5% on 2016 at 17.86 million tons, which supplies 82% of the total domestic demand, the balance coming from imports.

Russia’ Ministry of Agriculture reported that, as of January 17, exports of grain crops (excluding millet), amounted to about 28.9 million tons, 36% higher than the same date last year (21.2 million tons).  Wheat exports increased by a third, to 22.6 million tons (+ 35%) and barley exports to about 3.6 million tons, (+50%).

In Ukraine the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) agreed a $50 million loan to Ukraine grain business, Nibulon LLC for expansion and modernization of their grain logistics during 2018-19.

While in the same week, Delta Wilmar CIS reported they have pulled an investment plan for the construction of a $150 million plant in the port of Yuzhny, Ukraine, because of the actions of an organisation that extorted money from the company.

Over in France and the French wheat growers’ group AGPB said French farmers need to slash costs if they want to stop selling at a loss and regain market share lost to Black Sea.

"For 20 years, we have never seen such a worrying financial situation for French grain farms," explains Philippe Pinta, President of AGPB, "55% of grain farms are losing the money following a catastrophic national harvest in 2016".

Tuesday, 23 January 2018

Black Sea wheat now at low risk from cold weather

Snow has, and still is, falling over much of Russia and Ukraine and, to the excitement of many, it’s sticking!

By now, mid to late January, we’d expect to see 20-30cm of accumulated snow blanketing winter crops.

The latest satellite data shows it to be less than 5cm over large swathes of crop land, but that is still sufficient to offer protection if temperatures drop.

There is still a lot of winter to go but we are now passing the point when on average we see the lowest temperatures of the year.

That’s not to say we couldn’t still see some double-digit-minus-thermometer readings before winter is over, but as each day goes by that becomes less and less likely.

Given that winter crops went into the winter in good condition, most are now covered in snow and day length is on the increase, the risk of any winter related crop damage is low to very low.

Our next Black Sea Crop Tour is scheduled for March when we will properly assess post winter crop condition and get a first idea of yield potential, subscription details to follow shortly.

Friday, 19 January 2018

Russian government approves organic farming bill

This week Russia approved the draft federal law developed by the Ministry of Agriculture on the production of organic products.

During the approval process, Dmitry Medvedev, who chaired the process, noted the world market of organic products is experiencing rapid growth and Russia can take 10 to 25% of this market.

The bill introduces the basic concepts, determines which products have the right to be called organic, as well as the principles of production, and the powers of government bodies and local government.

The Minister of Agricultural, Alexander Tkachev, said "Over the past 15 years, the world organic food market has grown almost five times to $100 billion, and today it is 10% of the total world food market.  According to experts' forecasts, by 2022 the market of organic products will exceed $200 billion."

He also said "We have a sort of natural competitive advantage because in the 1990's, fertiliser applications significantly decreased, and part of the agricultural land has completely ceased to be processed.  A considerable amount of land has been formed, which meet the requirements of organic farming. In fact, Russia is a world bank for ecologically clean land."

Even so, presumably that land would still need to be determined to be eligible to produce products that have the right to be called organic by, for example, a two-year conversion period?

Thursday, 18 January 2018

USDA FSU December weather summary

Western FSU
Unseasonably warm, wet December weather was mostly favourable for dormant winter wheat.  Temperatures during the month averaged 3 to 7°C above normal, causing much of the region’s moderate to heavy precipitation (more than 200 percent of normal over large tracts of farmland) to fall as rain.  As a result, primary growing areas remained uncharacteristically devoid of a protective snow cover and subsequently vulnerable to temperature extremes.  Nevertheless, winter wheat entered dormancy in satisfactory condition in Ukraine and Russia.

Eastern FSU
Seasonably colder weather prevailed across the region.  During December, temperatures averaged within 2°C of normal across central Russia and northern Kazakhstan.  The snowpack remained relatively shallow (less than 10 cm) over northwestern Kazakhstan and Russia’s Urals District, while snow coverage and depths increased elsewhere in northern Kazakhstan and central Russia.  Farther south, colder- and drier-than-normal weather prevailed over Uzbekistan, slowing winter wheat growth but maintaining higher-than-normal irrigation demands.

This week's Black Sea agribusiness news in brief

Snow spreading across parts of Russia, in particular southern central regions, reports of roads blocked due to heavy snow fall in Stavropol; the cold weather is unlikely to be an issue that far south, but snow will help replenish soil moisture reserves.

Ukraine saw a light dusting of snow this week, not enough to offer much protection if temperatures drop and unlikely to last long as temperatures are forecast to rise again by the weekend.

UkrAgroConsult forecast Ukraine’s wheat output will fall about 4% to a four-year low this year because winter sowings are vulnerable to winterkill.  The consultancy forecast a 2018 harvest of 25.1 million tons. 

I’ve had discussions with my farming contacts around Ukraine and we don’t agree with this; crop condition is good, in October we scored 97% of crops satisfactory or above and nothing has happened to reduce this.  Sure, crops are currently at elevated risk, but risk doesn’t necessarily mean it will happen, plus soil moisture is good, the hectares are there so why would yield drop? 

I will publish our initial forecast next week which we will update after the first crop tour scheduled for March when we will have a much better picture.

Grain Market Daily from AHDB report that following the release of multiple USDA reports last Friday global wheat markets have fallen and a larger US winter area than the market had expected and upward revisions to global 2017/18 production have pressured prices.

Bloomberg report soaring oil prices have caused the rouble to jump to a seven-month high, making Russian grain more expensive for overseas buyers.  To counter higher currency-related costs, exporters typically cut prices paid to farmers, the thinking then goes that rather than accept lower rates, growers will hold onto supplies in the hope that prices rise.

The counter to that was highlighted by Russia’s Minister of Agriculture who reported this week that the 2017 record grain harvest of 134 million tonnes will allow exports up to 45-47 million tonnes of grain.

Russia’s Ministry of Agriculture report 1.2 million hectares of sugar beet was harvested, 9% more than in 2016, producing at total of 48.2MMT, up 15% on the average yield for the period 2012-2016 although down on last year’s 51.3MMT crop.

Last Friday, the Wall Street Journal reported that, due to low prices and large stockpiles, American farmers are cutting wheat plantings. The current crop is expected to be the smallest since 1909.

And finally, Ukraine immigration officials now require a fingerprint scan as part of their biometric data collection at border crossings; I'm already looking forward to what will undoubtedly be a seamless and rapid process.

Wednesday, 17 January 2018

Russian winter crops; 95% in good condition

Earlier today, the Russian minister of agriculture, Alexander Tkachev, addressed the Federation Council on "Preparing for Spring Field Work in the Russian Federation".

The minister reported that 17.1 million hectares of winter crops have been planted (17.3 million hectares in 2016) and 95% of those crops are in good condition.  

Back in October 2017 we travelled across Russia to assess the condition of wheat and scored 98% of crops satisfactory or good* so it looks like we agree.

The minister went on to stress the importance of maintaining the growth rate of agroindustry, in line with government policy of greater agriculture output.

Tkachev mentioned bringing land that was in long term fallow or had been abandoned, back into production and said that in 2017 the sown area exceeded 80 million hectares, returning un-cropped agricultural land back into production was a priority and that in 2018, the sown area will increase by at least 200 thousand hectares.

The minister said that the 2017 record grain harvest of 134 million tonnes will allow exports up to 45-47 million tonnes of grain.

"Since the beginning of the agricultural season, 28 million tonnes of grain have already been exported, which is 35% more than last year. Export of wheat grew by one third to 22 million tonnes” noted the minister.

To support Russian farmers, the minister highlighted the recently launched grain transport subsidy so that not only the South of Russia, but also Siberia, Volga region, Urals, and Central Russia could supply grain to foreign markets.

The minister went on to say that he was confident that Russia will firmly consolidate the status of the world's largest wheat supplier.

(*Our November 2017 Russian and Ukraine crop tour report is still available, drop me a line if you would like to buy copies, priced £100).

Thursday, 11 January 2018

This week's Black Sea agribusiness news in brief

Mild temperature continues to reduce snow cover across Russia and Ukraine.

Reuters report "Chicago wheat slid on Monday, on track for its biggest three-day fall since mid-December, although worry over lack of protective snow cover in the United States and Russia limited decline."

Russia’s Ministry of Agriculture report the first 100,000MT of grain has been transported at a reduced rate in accordance with the new policy on subsidising grain rail transport and included grain from Novosibirsk (52KMT), Omsk (35KMT), Orenburg (3 KMT) and Tambov (9KMT).

Russia’s Ministry of Agriculture report the sowing of winter crops for the harvest of 2018 is 17.4 million hectares, which corresponds to the same level as last year.

Russia’s Federal Service for Hydrometeorology and Environmental Monitoring report winter crops are in good and satisfactory condition on an area of 16.24 million hectares (95% of the total sown area).

The Deputy Minister of Agriculture gave insight into Russian agricultural policy yesterday when he said, "We face a serious challenge - not only to maintain the accelerated pace of development of the agrarian sector, but to provide conditions for its further growth.”

Eastern Europe’s largest biogas plant has opened in Western Ukraine, the Khmelnytskiy plant will convert manure, corn silage and sugar beet pulp into 15.6 mw of electricity, enough to power 16,000 households in the region.

Ukraine’s first solar plant located in the Chernobyl exclusion zone is to go on stream within weeks; the one-megawatt, 1.6ha site can cover the needs of a medium-sized village although plans are to eventually produce 100 times this.

The Times report Russian gas imported to Britain last year could be going to America as freezing weather in the US send prices soaring; a tanker carrying liquefied natural gas from storage facilities in Kent appeared to be heading to Boston, although its destination could yet change

The Ukrainian weather centre report that due to the influence of the Arctic air, the air temperature in Ukraine will gradually decrease starting from the beginning of the week.

Quote of the week; Benjamin Bodart from @CRMagri discussing this year’s wheat export market, "More than one in three tonnes exported in the world will be from the Black Sea region.”

Thursday, 12 October 2017

Latest USDA weather update for western FSU

Rain in the north contrasted with increasingly dry weather in key southern winter wheat areas. 

A storm system tracked across the northern tier of the region, producing a large area of moderate to heavy rain (10-35 mm) from Belarus and northern Ukraine into northern Russia. 

The wet conditions slowed or halted small grain and summer crop harvesting but maintained favourable soil moisture for winter crops. 

However, the region's primary winter wheat areas — which extend from southern Ukraine into Russia’s Southern District — reported little (if any) rain. 

Dryness has been particularly acute in Krasnodar Krai (southwestern Southern District), where the last significant rain was September 7. 

Rain will be needed soon to ensure proper wheat establishment before seasonally colder weather arrives.

Latest USDA weather update for Europe

Wet, cool weather prevailed over much of the continent, though heat and drought persisted on the Iberian Peninsula. 

A series of Atlantic storm systems paraded eastward across the continent, producing a large swath of moderate to heavy rainfall (5-50 mm, locally more) from England and France into Poland and the Baltic States. 

Later in the period, a stalled frontal boundary over the southern Balkans triggered 15 to 60 mm of rain from Croatia into the lower Danube River Valley. 

The widespread rainfall was beneficial for winter crop establishment, though corn and sunflower harvesting was delayed by the wet conditions.  

Temperatures from France into Poland and the Balkans averaged 1 to 3°C below normal, though there were no season-ending freezes reported. 

In contrast, dryness and heat (31-36°C) accompanied the start of Spain’s cool wet season, which marked the second consecutive year the Iberian Peninsula began the typically wet autumn and winter growing season mired in drought. 

While it is still early in Spain for barley and wheat (typically planted in November), water supplies and soil moisture remained very limited following last year’s drought and this past summer’s excessive heat.

Wednesday, 4 October 2017

Latest USDA weather update for western FSU

Dry albeit chilly weather promoted fieldwork but further reduced soil moisture for winter wheat establishment. 

An area of high pressure initially over northwestern Russia drifted westward, bringing sunny skies and cooler-than-normal temperatures (up to 4°C below normal) to much of the region. 

As a result, summer crop harvesting and late winter wheat planting proceeded without delay. 

However, soil moisture was in very short supply for wheat establishment, particularly from southern and eastern Ukraine into southwestern Russia. 

Despite the drier weather pattern, variable early-week showers (1-25 mm) in central and western Ukraine slowed soybean maturation and harvesting.

Latest USDA weather update for Europe

Drier weather returned to eastern Europe, while showers arrived in western and northern growing areas by week’s end.

A large area of high pressure over western Russia early in the period drifted westward, bringing drier conditions to most major growing areas from the Baltic States into the northern and central Balkans.

The respite from recent heavy rain allowed summer crop harvesting and winter crop sowing to resume.

However, light to moderate showers (3-20 mm) lingered in southern and western Poland and surrounding environs, further delaying fieldwork in these locales.

Likewise, moderate to heavy rainfall (10-75 mm) in the southern Balkans interrupted summer crop harvesting.

By week’s end, a strong cold front generated widespread showers (5-50 mm) from France and the United Kingdom into Germany, maintaining favourable moisture supplies for wheat and rapeseed establishment.

Meanwhile, dry conditions lingered in Spain and Portugal; cool-season rain typically commences on the Iberian Peninsula in late-September and early October, and rain will be especially welcome following this past year’s drought and heat.

Friday, 21 July 2017

The latest Black Sea Crop Tour is about to hit the road

Next week we will be driving across Ukraine and Russia assessing the current wheat harvest and adjusting our forecast if necessary.

At the same time, we will look at the condition of the spring planted crops, in particular, corn, to see how they are holding up so far and adjusting our forecasts there if required.

We will tour again in August to update our view on corn, sunflower and soya ahead of harvest.

During each tour we will post pictures, video and commentary on our dedicated tour Twitter account and follow up with a report of our findings including our latest yield forecasts.

We charge a reasonable £350 for this service which takes us through to the end of the year when we finish off the season with a final look at wheat to check out how well it has established and how it will stand up during the winter.

It’s a bit like having your own guy on the ground but at a mere fraction of the cost and you don’t have to fill out a risk assessment.

Drop me an email if you think this is something that might be of interest to you.


Thursday, 20 July 2017

Russia harvests 22 million tonnes of grain

As of July 19, Russia harvested 5.1mha producing 22.5mmt of grain with an average yield of 4.43mt/ha.

At the same point last year, farmers harvested 7.1mha collecting 29.3mmt of grain with an average yield of 4.15mt/ha.

Canola stands at 700,200 hectares harvested producing 2.8mmt with an average yield of 2.05mt/ha.

Early potatoes harvest is 87,100mt at a yield of 25.4mt/ha.

Sign up to our crop tour service to receive up to date, independent information on the cereal harvest and forecasts on late spring crops prospects.

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Estonia takes over EU Council presidency

On July 1, Estonia took over the rotating EU Council presidency for the first time ever.

With the exception of Foreign Affairs, Estonia will now schedule and chair all ministerial meetings including agriculture.

Estonian said they will focus on the future of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), based on the outcome of the public consultation launched by the European Commission on CAP reform.

What public consultation?  Did you hear anything about it?  I didn’t, while I admit I don’t read everything I should, I’m certainly not hiding under a rock when it comes to agriculture.

For the record, the consultation opened on 2nd February and closed 2nd May.

That was twelve weeks to spot a consultation on CAP was happening, twelve weeks to find out how to participate and twelve weeks to formulate a response.

The CAP is one of the EU’s longest-standing policies and is the only EU policy that directly affects every citizen of Europe yet twelve weeks was considered long enough for a public consultation.

The EU really needs to get off its high horse and start engaging with people otherwise Brexit might just be the start.

Russian cereal harvest will exceed 105mmt

Earlier today, Russia's Vladimir Putin heard a report on harvest progress and production forecast from the Minister of Agriculture, Aleksandr Tkachev.

The Minister reported on the completion of the plantings and an increase of 300,000 hectares on last year to 80 million hectares.

He also recalled low temperature in some regions delayed harvest by two weeks although the country's farmers have already collected the first 20 million tonnes of grain.

"If it is a warm and dry autumn, and we can complete the harvest of the Urals and Siberia at the optimum time, then the grain harvest will exceed 105 million tonnes or more” said an upbeat Tkachev.

The anticipated level of production and expected domestic consumption (70 million tonnes) will leave a surplus about 35 million tonnes for export said the Minister.

I’m now looking forward to Michael Gove’s equally upbeat and widely reported harvest report to Theresa May, any day now…

Russia harvests 15.9 million tons of forage

As of July 14, Russia had harvested 15.9mmt of coarse and succulent fodder (hay, haylage, silage) in all categories of farms.

This means large commercial farms and smaller private set-ups so the quality of that conserved forage will vary from very good to barely digestible.

The total demand for the 2017-2018 winter is estimated to be 30.1mmt.

Harvesting has not yet started in the Siberian and Far Eastern Federal Districts and I assume there will be further cuts of silage elsewhere.

Russian poultry production up 5.2%

Russia’s production of poultry for slaughter in live weight from January to June this year in farms of all categories amounted to 3.17mmt, which is 5.2% more than the same period in 2016.

The Ministry report that agricultural production increased by 5.4% and amounted to 2.99mmt which I take to mean commercial farms not including home reared birds.

If you ever get the chance to visit a village in Russia, one of the first things you notice is it’s basically one big petting zoo, there is livestock everywhere.

Egg production in all types of farms was 22.37 billion (+ 2.5%), and in commercial farms, 17.77 billion (+ 3.6%).

Tuesday, 18 July 2017

Latest USDA weather update for western FSU

Much-needed rain improved crop prospects in central and northern Ukraine, while conditions remained favourable for summer crops in Russia.

After a protracted dry spell during the spring and early summer across central and northern Ukraine, 10 to 70 mm of rain provided timely moisture for corn, soybeans, and sunflowers approaching or entering reproduction.

Similar rainfall amounts sustained good to excellent summer crop prospects in western Ukraine, while light to moderate showers (5-20 mm) in eastern Ukraine benefited budding sunflowers.

In Russia, light to moderate showers (1-20 mm) and near- to below-normal temperatures maintained excellent yield prospects for spring grains and summer crops approaching (north) or progressing through (south) the reproductive stages of development.

In western Russia, rainfall over the past 60 days has averaged 100 to 200 percent of normal, ensuring good soil moisture reserves for crop development, though the wet weather likely slowed winter wheat drydown and harvesting somewhat.

Elsewhere, light to moderate showers (2-20 mm) in Moldova were beneficial for reproductive corn, while moderate to heavy rain (10-50 mm) in Belarus eased short-term precipitation deficits and improved moisture supplies for flowering spring grains.

Untimely heat was not a concern, although spring grains and summer crops were developing two to three weeks behind average in west-central Russia (southern Volga and northern Southern Districts) due to the recent spell of cool, showery weather.

Latest USDA weather update for eastern FSU

Good to excellent conditions continued for vegetative to reproductive small grains and cotton.

In the spring wheat belt of northern Kazakhstan and central Russia, moderate to heavy showers (10-50 mm) were beneficial for reproductive spring barley (Volga and Urals Districts) as well as jointing to heading spring wheat (from northern Kazakhstan and environs into the Siberia District).

Meanwhile, sunny skies and seasonable heat (38-42°C) promoted the development of flowering cotton (which is heavily irrigated) in eastern Uzbekistan and Tajikistan.

Latest USDA weather update for Europe

Widespread rain further improved summer crop prospects over much of the continent, though excessive heat lingered in parts of southern Europe.

Early in the period, moderate to heavy showers (10-50 mm, locally more) from France eastward into Hungary, Poland, and the Baltic States maintained or improved soil moisture as small grains and summer crops approached or progressed through the reproductive stages of development.

The recent wet weather (near- to above-normal rainfall over the past 30 days) has eased or eliminated dryness concerns over most growing areas; moisture stress was limited to Belgium, southern portions of Spain and Italy, as well Serbia and western Romania.

However, heat continued to stress crops in southern Europe.

In southern Spain, daytime highs above 40°C adversely impacted reproductive to filling sunflowers and cotton.

In Italy, seven consecutive days above 35°C (beginning July 5) were untimely for tasselling to silking corn in the Po River Valley.

In southeastern Europe, widespread 35-degree heat (locally as high as 40°C) stressed reproductive corn and soybeans, particularly in the driest locales of the middle Danube River Valley.

(Next week I will be driving across much of Europe and hope to be able to give an independent summary on current crop condition).

Russia harvests 18 million tonnes of grain

As of July 17, Russia harvested 4.2mha producing 18.8mmt of grain with an average yield of 4.46mt/ha.

At the same point last year, farmers harvested 5.9mha collecting 24.5mmt of grain with an average yield of 4.19mt/ha.

Harvest continues in the Southern and North Caucasian Federal District and has now started some regions of the Central and Volga federal districts.

Sign up to our crop tour service to receive up to date, independent information on the cereal harvest and forecasts on late spring crops prospects.

Russia's 2018 agri budget to remain at 2017 levels

Russia’s Minister of Agriculture, Aleksandr Tkachev, took part in a meeting on agro-industrial and fishery federal budget spending for 2018-2020, chaired by Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev.

Medvedev noted that the agricultural sector of the economy is on the rise and not only increased the level of food security, but also began to increase the supply of export of agricultural products.

He also noted that budget spending on agricultural sector support in 2018 may remain at the level of the current year. 

Ukraine grain yield down but quality up

As of July 18, Ukraine’s early grain harvest stands at 10mmt of grain from 3.1 million hectares (32% of the planned 9.4mha), with an average yield of 3.26mt/ha.

This breaks down like this:
  • Wheat - 5.6mmt, 1.6mha (25% of 6.3mha), average yield of 3.47mt/ha.
  • Barley - 3.7mmt, 1.2mha (48% of 2.5mha), average yield of 3.17mt/ha.
  • Peas – 617,000mt, 260,000ha (66% of 392,000ha), average yield of 2.37mt/ha.
Before you ask, no, we don’t have comparable data for last years as the ministry didn’t publish anything but they are saying the moisture deficit in June has reduced yields slightly.

They are also saying the quality of grain from the southern region is good with preliminary estimates saying the share of Class 1-3 for wheat could reach 50 to 70%.

Who's in charge at Ukraine’s Ministry of Agriculture?

Back in May, Ukraine's Minister of Agriculture, Taras Kutovyi announced his resignation online (Ukraine's Minister of Agriculture resigns).

He has been in the post 13 months and said he was leaving to focus on attracting investment in Ukraine.

At that time Parliament said his resignation was to be authorised and a successor announced.

Six weeks later and no successor has been announced, Kutovyi is still down on the website as the Minister although, as far as I can tell, hasn’t been visible since submitting his resignation with all new announcements made by various deputy Ministers.

I say “as far as I can tell” because the Ministry of Agrarian Policy and Food of Ukraine’s website is going so slowly that it's all but not working and has been like that for weeks now.

All this at a time when Ukraine, the worlds number six wheat exporter and number four corn exporter started harvest and about when they usually sign a memorandum with the leading grain exporters agreeing the amount of grain that can be exported this year.

How long does it take to appoint a new Minister, is there something going on in Ukraine’s Ministry of Agriculture that we should know about?

(Update to this story, as if by coincidence Ukraine's Ministry of Agriculture have just announced a tender to develop a website.)

Monday, 17 July 2017

Russia harvests 14 million tonnes of grain

As of July 14, Russia harvested 3.2mha producing 14.4mmt of grain with an average yield of 4.46mt/ha.

At the same point last year, farmers harvested 4.3mha collecting 18.2mmt of grain with an average yield of 4.25mt/ha.

Sign up to our crop tour service to receive up to date, independent information on the cereal harvest and forecasts on late spring crops prospects.

Ukraine harvest 6.5 million tonnes of grain

Ukraine’s harvest stands at 6.5mmt of grain from 2.0mha with an average yield of 3.18mt/ha.

Ukraine are a bit rubbish at providing regular harvest information so I am currently looking at a few other sources but the yield this year is down on last year when it was running at about 3.7mt/ha.

This includes 3.1mmt of wheat from 0.90mha (14%) with an average yield of 3.42mt/ha and 2.96mmt of barley from 0.93mha (38%) with an average yield of 3.16mt/ha.

The latest USDA forecast trimmed one million tonnes off the wheat crop bringing it down to 24mmt, I dropped our forecast 1.2mmt last week on the back of lower planting figures to 26.5mmt.

We are planning to be in Ukraine next week to assess the condition of the cereal harvest and to update our forecast if necessary. 

We will also be looking at corn, sunflower and soya and will be adjusting our forecast there if required.

Email blackseacroptour@gmail.com if you would like to subscribe and receive our results, at only 350 quid it’s significantly cheaper (and safer) than trying to do it yourself.

Russia warns New Zealand of restrictions to dairy products

Russia is warning of potential restriction to New Zealand dairy products after butter tested positive for the antibiotic tetracycline, saying if they continued to find the antibiotic, it would limit the supply of milk products from New Zealand. 

Not the first time NZ have dropped the ball when trading with Russia.

In February this year, Russia banned NZ beef after the bacteria Listeria and the feed additive ractopamine was found in beef and beef offal (Russia ban NZ beef).

Back then the NZ authorities appeared to be caught off guard and sounded like a bunch of whining children saying they were “mystified” and that “NZ food standards are among the highest in the world.”  

Clearly, the Russians think otherwise.

Russian agri-news in brief

According to the Russian Federal Customs Service, Russian exports of agricultural products (excluding trade with the EAEC) increased by 18% for the first six months of 2017.  

Cereals accounted for 37.1% of the total exports, including wheat at 27.7%. 

As of July 13, the total volume of issued credit to Russian farmers for seasonal field work rose to 167 billion roubles, 6.2% more than in the same period last year.

According to the Russian Ministry of agriculture, farmers have accumulated 11.9% more fertiliser than last year.

The gross yield of Russian greenhouse vegetables was up 24% to 476kmt, including 350kmt of cucumbers (+21%) and 119kmt of tomatoes (+42%) which pretty much describes the standard Russian salad.

Friday, 14 July 2017

Russia harvests 12 million tonnes of grain

As of July 11, Russia harvested 2.7mha producing 12.2mmt of grain with an average yield of 4.39mt/ha.

At the same point last year, farmers harvested 4.0mha collecting 16.8mmt of grain with an average yield of 4.23mt/ha.

Harvest is running about a week behind last year in terms of hectares cut, but if you ignore the different start date, the harvest is on track and yield and output are both slightly ahead of last year.

I have written a brief update on the Russian-Ukraine harvest (email blackseacroptour@gmail.com for a free copy), in it I said it will be a brave analyst who calls H17 more than H16 and that no one seems prepared to break ranks and go public with a big number.

The next day the USDA went public with a big number and increased their latest Russian wheat forecast by a whopping 3.0mmt to 72mmt, the same as last year’s record crop.

While their forecast doesn’t exceed last year’s crop, I’m starting to think it is only a matter of days before someone does.

For the record, back in early June, we pegged Russian wheat at 70.1mmt, this week we increased that 1.0mmt on the back of finalised planting numbers.

In about ten days we will start touring Russia and Ukraine again with a view to adjusting our forecast, be sure to sign up to access the full results.

Wednesday, 12 July 2017

Russia harvests nine million tonnes of grain

As of July 11, Russia harvested 2.1mha producing 9.1mmt of grain with an average yield of 4.41mt/ha.

At the same point last year, farmers harvested 3.2mha collecting 13.8mmt of grain with an average yield of 4.34mt/ha.

We are picking up on possible wheat quality issues and we will be touring again in about two weeks time.

Sign up to our crop tour service to receive up to date, independent information on the cereal harvest and forecasts on late spring crops prospects.