Wednesday, 30 July 2014

French wheat harvest down on estimates

The French are saying their wheat crop, the biggest in the EU, may not yield as well as they previously thought.

Estimates are currently suggesting the crop will be down by 800kmt, IGC peg the crop at 38.8mmt and USDA at 38.5mmt.

They are reporting a better picture for barley estimating it to be up 1mmt on the year at 11.3mmt and rapeseed would reach an anticipated 5.2mmt.

All eyes on Germany then as the second biggest EU producer, early reports are harvest and grain quality is looking good.

Hate to rain on anyone’s parade but Ukraine and Russian (assuming they will be allowed to export in to the EU and I suspect they will) wheat harvest is looking good both in terms of yield and quality and for political reasons the EU will be looking very favourably on agri-imports from Ukraine.

Belarus harvest update

Belarus has 4.0mmt of crop in the shed.

So far they have harvested 1.0mha or 43% of the planned cropping area with an impressive yield of 3.94mt/ha.

Winter oilseed rape harvest is all but over with 343kha producing an average yield of 2.27mt/ha.

I think they are still on target to complete harvest in twenty days, however many combines they do eventually use it is still an impressive achievement.

Latest USDA weather update for western FSU

Volume 101, no. 30, full report here.

Mostly dry, hot weather persisted in Russia, while showers and thunderstorms further boosted summer crop prospects elsewhere.

High pressure remained centered over western Kazakhstan, maintaining sunny skies in Russia and a warm southerly flow across the western two-thirds of the region.

Temperatures averaged 2 to 5°C above normal in most growing areas, with daytime highs in the lower to middle 30s (degrees C) causing some stress to reproductive summer crops in southern portions of Ukraine and Russia

In Russia, the heat was accompanied by sunny skies, which accelerated winter wheat harvesting.
However, the Rostov Oblast in the west-central Southern District has reported little - if any - precipitation since June 21, causing deteriorating yield prospects for summer crops, in particular sunflowers.

In contrast, the heat and humidity over Moldova, Ukraine, and Belarus was accompanied by widespread showers and thunderstorms (10-50 mm, locally more), which maintained excellent prospects for silking corn and blooming sunflowers.

Farther east, dry albeit cooler weather (1-3°C below normal) prevailed in the southeastern Volga District, promoting spring wheat maturation.

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Russian harvest update

Russia has harvested 12.7mha or 27% of the crop, producing 43.6mmt dirty weight with a slight drop in yield from the last report to 3.44mt/ha.

At the same time last year Russia had cut the same area, 12.7mha, but produced 35.5mmt yielding less at 2.79mt/ha.

It's looking like this years crop is going to be better than last although Russia might have problems finding customers for all that grain if sanctions continue to be imposed.

Current individual crop yields stand at wheat 35.9mmt, yield 3.64mt/ha (3.03mt/ha in 2013); barley 3.8mmt, yield 3.05mt/ha (2.29mt/ha); oilseed rape 367kmt, yield 1.65mt/ha (1.71mt/ha).

Here is the moos...

When I was an eighteen year old tractor driver, putting in dawn ‘till midnight shifts in the the English county of Nottinghamshire, the default radio station on in every cab was BBC Radio One.

It was unmitigated toss.

If you have never listened to it count yourself lucky; saccharine, amorphous, putrefying drivel with a middle of the road play list that was on a thirty minute loop.

I was assaulted by this stuff sixteen hours a day, seven days a week, for the entire harvest and planting campaign.

Then late one night shift I inexplicably fiddled with the knobs and stumbled across BBC Radio Four, my life changed forever.

With news, political talk, opinion, documentaries, stories, plays, travel, science and some of the best comedy I have ever heard the long days in the tractor cab were immediately transformed.

Now I could entertain and educate myself while driving in straight lines.

Recently I thought my life was complete when that brilliant woman from the R4 Food Programme, @SheilaDillon started following me on Twitter.

I topped Sheila this morning by appearing on the Farming Today Programme talking about farming in Ukraine and Russia.

I think it’s time to retire.

Monday, 28 July 2014

Why, if Mr Spok beamed down to Russia, his brain would explode

Winston Churchill famously described Russia as a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.

Spend some time in the workers paradise and few would disagree; you soon become accustomed to expecting the unexpected.

And it’s advisable not to spend too long trying to figure out logic behind the long list of oddities that confront you because there isn't one.

I've lost count the times I have walked in to a hotel, guest house or apartment after a long and difficult day to find only after several minutes of frustrated fumbling in the dark that the light switch is not in the logical place but is inconveniently tucked away behind the door.

Or in a different room,

The first few times this happens you find yourself starring in disbelief, spluttering like Jeremy Clarkson “for the love of Nigel Mansell's moustache why?”

If you ask a Russian you will be met with a shrug of the shoulders and a vague smile that seems to say haven’t you got better things to worry about.

And they’d be right.

Beam me up Scotty.

Ukraine harvest latest yields

Ukraine has now harvested 23.6mmt of early grains and pulses from 7.1mha or 72% of the crop.

Average yield has seen a slight increase over last weeks report and now stands at 3.33mt/ha (compared to 3.03mt/ha same time last year).

Individual crop areas and yields currently stand at wheat 4.5mha, 3.64mt/ha; barley 2.4mha, 2.86mt/ha; rye 82kha, 2.36mt/ha;oats 25kha, 2.06mt/ha; peas 133kha, 2.31mt/ha; oilseed rape 788kha, 2.34mt/ha.

Friday, 25 July 2014

Ukraine conflict harvest part 2

The ongoing conflict in Ukraine is undoubtedly affecting farming but by how much?

Ukraine's Ag Minister estimated 500,000mt or more might be lost in the warring region; I estimated upwards of 1.1mmt could be at risk, so between us we are probably in the ball park.

We do differ on if that grain is “lost” or “at risk”.

There are a couple of things to take in to account before we completely write off that grain; be it half a million or one million tonnes.

It is difficult to make a clear assessment of how the war is going but it is clearly not going to Poroshenko’s plan who back in May proclaimed it was going to be over in a matter of hours not days and certainly not months.

However through the white noise of internet chatter it appears, at least it does to me, that the Ukraine Army might be gaining ground and the truly despicable and indefensible murder of 298 innocent people including 80 children aboard flight MH17 has moved the conflict on to another level possibly beyond the reach of the separatists.

All of this leads me to believe the ground war might be moving in to the final stages and if not finished off outright it might be contained - I certainly hope it’s not going to go the other way.

Consequently any un-harvested crop still standing in the conflict region may become accessible to farmers and we may see the bulk of it eventually gathered.

Cereal crops like wheat and barley will stand a long time after they are ripe and it is possible although not desirable to cut them through August and even into September with little loss of yield and quality, I know because I've done it.

Corn, sunflower and long season soya harvest doesn't really get started until September so they hopefully will be ready after the resolution of the conflict.

So the known unknown is how much of that at risk crop will be lost crop?

My feeling is very little; it’s too valuable to leave in the fields and if you know anything about Ukraine’s history of famine during the 1930’s which was engineered from Moscow you will understand that Ukrainians simply can not leave food in the field to rot.

Russian harvest update

Russia has harvested 10.7mha or 23% producing 37.2mmt dirty weight yielding 3.48mt/ha.

The yield has dropped a smidge on last week’s report but is still up on the same point last year (2.84mt/ha although I’m not sure of the benefit of these year by year comparisons, what does it really tell us).

Wheat 31.4mmt, yield 3.66mt/ha (3.05mt/ha in 2013); barley 3.1mmt, yield 3.15mt/ha (2.34mt/ha); oilseed rape 342kmt, yield 1.63mt/ha (1.7mt/ha).

Belarus harvest storming ahead

The Belorussian Deputy Minister of Agriculture announced they will complete harvest in twenty days.

Well done you.

They are planning to harvest 2.4mha of grains and pulses and achieve a record harvest.

Let me see now, 2.4mha in twenty days means they will need to harvest a reasonable 120kha per day for the duration of the campaign.

Assuming an easy combine output of 20ha per day then the will need about 6,000 combines to keep on target.

Hang on one minute, only last week the Minister of Agriculture informed us that they had 12,000 combines match fit, what are the other 6,000 combines doing during harvest?

Or is the daily output closer to 10ha per day?

Then it's a case of not so well done you.

Thursday, 24 July 2014

Ukraine: the feed trough of the Soviet Union?

It's a fact that every article ever written about Ukraine agriculture starts off with the assertion that the country was once the bread basket of the Soviet Union.

Except it wasn't.

It did produce a lot of grain but my local reliable sources tell me that at the time quality was low and most was used for animal feed.

But Ukraine, the feed trough of the Soviet Union doesn't have the same ring to it.

Ukrainian agriculture consistently fails to live up to expectations and production figures stubbornly scrape along at unimpressive low levels although this year is looking like it might be slightly better than the average.

Compared to the ten year average for EU27, Ukraine grain yields ranks 24th right behind Romania and Estonia and just ahead of Greece and Cyprus.

Hardly stuff of legends.

Recognising that a lot of Ukraine’s wheat comes from subsistence farmers who lack technology and finance for seeds and fertilisers which skews the average yield downwards, the professionally run well financed agribusinesses don’t do much better either.

Wheat yields published by four of the big agribusiness rarely exceeded 4.5mt/ha which would rank them 13th out of an EU29. 

Better but still not great when you consider the average yield for the top five producing countries was over 8.4mt/ha.

So why does Ukrainian agriculture consistently fail to live up to the hype?

Depressingly it's a long, long list of technical, economic and political issues but less depressingly it is relatively easy to pick off some of the low hanging fruit and to see an immediate uplift.

I class those changes in to three areas.

Those that cost nothing but involve a change to management, often not doing something like not "sealing in the moisture" which is a cultivation practice that can best be described as recreational.

Those that cost a relatively small investment such as changing the five year old sprayer nozzles.

Then there is the big investment expenditure such as buying more efficient and effective equipment that allows you to do the job better and in a tighter timing window.

Then overarching all of this is the attention to detail brought about by bringing local staff on with the new approach.

A positive from this is that once those new, young managers are introduced to new methods and management styles they rarely want to go back.

The future is bright for Ukraine even if it doesn't much feel like it right at this moment.

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

In the Kingdom of the blind the one eyed man is King

When I go off message from farming into politics I'm conversely accused of being either a Kremlin backed troll or a Western stooge.

Sometimes I read something that means I must take that risk.

Russia’s former finance minister Alexei Kudrin said conservative forces had seized upon the Ukraine crisis to push the country towards an isolationist course, and this ran counter to the interests of Russian business, which is a fair comment.

Although a former finance minister, Mr Kudrin still maintains high level connections as one of Putin’s trusted economic advisors and goes on to say that the stand-off with the west will hurt the countries modernisation.

He may be connected in Moscow, is he connected to the rest of Russia?

Every minute of every day I am totally underwhelmed by the sheer pace of Russia’s modernisation.

Ukraine harvest update, shows what I know

Despite my know all predictions of a not so good Ukrainian harvest because of blah blah blah (see previous posts), today’s figures let me down as yields stubbornly continue to climb.

With 5.93mha or 60% cut overall average yield is now up at 3.22mt/ha.

That’s wheat at 3.49mt/ha; barley at 2.80mt/ha; rye at 2.34mt/ha; oats 1.73mt/ha; peas 2.26mt/ha; oilseed rape 2.28mt/ha.

But we have all experienced that sinking feeling of disappointment as the last field comes in and knocks the feet out from under what was a promising year.

A lot can still happen between now and the finish tape.

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Ukraine conflict harvest update

Ukraine has harvested 5.14mha or 52% of the early harvest producing 16.11mmt with an average yield of 3.14m/ha, slightly up on the last report (3.04mt/ha) and the same date last year (2.92mt/ha).

With settled weather forecast through the rest of the week, harvest should carry on unhindered obviously apart from the areas of conflict in Donetsk and Luhansk.

In a purely academic exercise carried out from the safety of my desk to try and quantify the possible impact of the conflict on the grain harvest, Donetsk and Luhansk contain about 9% or 3.1mha of Ukraine’s arable land.

Making the assumption that 75% of the land is cropped; 30% of the cropped land is cereals; 50% of that is in the conflict zone and unreachable; I reckon that’s about 351kha of small grain cereals at risk of not being harvested or about 4% of the national crop or at current yield figures 1.1mmt.

That’s something to think about.

For the record then, current bunker weight yields are running as follows; wheat 3.38mt/ha; barley 2.77mt/ha; rye 2.24mt/ha; oats 1.71mt/ha; peas 2.20mt/ha; oilseed rape 2.16mt/ha.

Life on MARS

The latest EU crop monitoring MARS bulletin is pitching EU-28 H14 cereal yields as good and a positive outlook for summer crops.

They are forecasting cereal yields at 5.31mt/ha which is at the same level as H13 and compares favourably with the five year average of 5.09mt/ha.

In Ukraine they state meteorological conditions are optimal and cereal yields are expected to reach nearly the same level as last year although there are a couple of significant points that might dent this bullish position.

Leaving aside the war which as we have seen lately is completely unpredictable so I won’t try, cash flow shortages and political uncertainty meant growers applied less nitrogen fertiliser in May.

While the crops might look superficially good from a satellite and even on the ground, I’m not sure this necessarily translates in to high numbers of heavy grains.

Secondly, they state that crops benefited from substantial rainfall during flowering; which is great except rainfall means cloudy conditions, cloudy conditions means an extended flowering period, extended flowering means the flower is open for longer and susceptible to fungal organisms for longer, in particularly fusarium.

Wet, cool, cloudy weather at flowering generally leads to higher levels of fusarium and for reasons already mentioned I doubt many will be applying robust late fungicide programmes to counteract this.

Meanwhile in Russia abundant precipitation in June, crop model simulations, ample biomass and adequate soil moisture are leading MARS to predict higher than average winter and spring cereal yields.

Drier conditions in Russia in July allowed the harvest to get underway as confirmed by yours truly on his trips out and about.

Friday, 18 July 2014

Russian harvest update

To date Russian farmers have cut 15% or 7.1mha of the early crop harvest.

This has produced 24.9mmt of grain with an average yield of 3.51mt/ha (3.01mt/ha 2013).

Not that it really means anything because each season is earlier or later but at the same point last year they had cut 9.0mha so some would have you believe the harvest is behind.

Not me though, I believe plants kept growing longer and matured later because soil moisture allowed them to do so, thus harvest started later but will undoubtedly catch up under hot dry conditions; a hypothesis borne out by higher yields this year compared to last (except the rape, rape is always a dog at harvest, one sniff of heavy rain and it’s on the floor).

In detail then, the scores on the doors are wheat 3.61mt/ha (3.17mt/ha 2013); barley 3.36mt/ha (2.67mt/ha 2013); oilseed rape 1.61mt/ha (1.72mt/ha 2013).

Uzbekistan harvest breaks records

I haven’t been to Uzbekistan in some time but the reports coming out of the Ministry of Agriculture remind me of…hang on, this sounds familiar.

The Uzbek Ministry of Agriculture is reporting that to date 60% of the harvest is in, which so far has produced 8.05mmt with an average yield of 5.5mt/ha.

The President of Uzbekistan was rightly impressed with this record breaking yield that he sent a letter of congratulations to grain farmers saying that such a harvest was collected for the first time in the country's agricultural history despite adverse weather and climatic conditions.

He went on to say that 23 years ago they bought 5mmt of grain a year but now could grow enough to feed the 31 million Uzbek people and have some left over for export.

But he did forget to mention child slave labour used to collect the nations cotton crop, that must be in the next memo.

Grain yield has risen from 1.7mt/ha to 5.5mt/ha in that time.

It seems high, I wonder if they are now growing more corn and including that in the grain production figures?


Last night a Malaysian Airlines flight from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur came down in the disputed region of Eastern Ukraine.

Naturally the internet is buzzing with accusations of who is responsible for bringing it down and in time no doubt the cause will come out.

For now all I can think of is the 298 men, women and children who were on board.

Yet another black day in Ukraine.

Thursday, 17 July 2014

Ukraine harvest update

Good weather is allowing Ukraine’s harvest to keep up a head of steam.

To date 4.3mha or 44% of the early harvest has been gathered producing 13.0mmt giving a respectable 3.04mt/ha.

I say respectable, actually it’s low when compared to Europe (Ukraine ranks 24 out of 27 EU countries) but it is up on last year at the same date and it beats six of the last ten years in Ukraine so not a complete washout.

I can't help but think what the impact would be if Ukraine did consistently up it's grain yield by a modest and perfectly achievable 20% or so.

There is a lot of low hanging fruit to aim at to get national yields moving north but as an example take a look at the fertiliser.

Now I know this doesn't explain the full story particularly during the late Soviet era but to me it paints a fairly stark and straightforward picture; Ukraine is using nowhere near the amount of fertliser it should be.

Anyhoo, latest harvest figures are 2.6mha of wheat yielding 3.24mt/ha; 1.6mha barley at 2.77mt/ha; 7.6kha rye at 2.08mt/ha (that’s why you shouldn't grow rye); 187kha peas at 2.12mt/ha and 476kha oilseed rape giving 2.01mt/ha.

Keep up the good work fella's.

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Belarus 2014 harvest plan

I haven’t been to Belarus in some time but the reports coming out of the Ministry of Agriculture continue to remind me of China’s Great Leap Forward.

In China at that time local leaders were pressured into falsely reporting ever-higher grain production figures in the race to please superiors who then forced villages to sell more grain than they actually had.

Estimates range from 18 to 42 million people starved to death as a result.

The Belarusian Min of Ag are saying that they plan to harvest 10mmt of grain and experts at the National Academy of Sciences say the new season crop will be a record, compared to 2012.

The Min of Ag report there are 12,000 combines prepped and ready for action and they plan to buy a further 300 units; they need 210kmt of diesel to keep the combines running and the government has allocated BYR300m (USD30K) for the job.

I’m sure Minsk will be cock-a-hoop with these glowing reports that not only confirm the righteousness of the political and economic ideology but also the greatness of the glorious leaders.

Long live the King.

Latest USDA weather update for western FSU

Volume 101, no. 28, full report here.

Mostly dry, warm weather promoted southern fieldwork, while locally heavy rain boosted summer crop prospects in central and western portions of the region.

High pressure centred over western Kazakhstan maintained a warm, southerly flow across much of the region, with temperatures averaging 1 to 2°C above normal in Russia’s Southern District and up to 4°C above normal in western Ukraine.

Mostly dry weather prevailed in many key winter wheat areas from southern Ukraine into southern Russia, allowing winter wheat harvesting to accelerate.

However, a narrow band of locally heavy showers and thunderstorms (10-70 mm) from eastern Ukraine into Russia’s Southern District curtailed fieldwork but boosted soil moisture for corn and sunflowers.

Meanwhile, showers and thunderstorms - some severe - dropped 10 to 75 mm of rain in Moldova, northern and western Ukraine, Belarus, and northwestern Russia, benefiting filling small grains and reproductive summer crops.

In contrast, dry albeit cool weather (1-3°C below normal) prevailed in the Volga District, promoting spring wheat development.

Monday, 14 July 2014

Latest USDA weather update for western FSU

Volume 101, no. 27, full report here.

A return of drier, warmer weather promoted summer crop development and allowed fieldwork to resume.

After last week’s soaking rainfall, sunny skies and above-normal temperatures allowed producers in key southern and western winter wheat areas of Russia and Ukraine to resume harvesting.

The break from recent rain also benefited corn and sunflower development, with daytime highs remaining below the threshold for heat stress.

Likewise, dry weather prevailed in the Volga District, though cool conditions (up to 4°C below normal) were favorable for spring wheat development.

Despite the generally dry weather pattern, a few scattered showers (2-20 mm) dotted eastern Ukraine and central portions of Russia’s Southern District, providing additional - albeit localized - soil moisture for summer crops.

Meanwhile, showers in western and northern most portions of the region benefited corn and spring grains from Moldova into western Ukraine and Belarus.

Russian harvest underway

Well what a couple of weeks that was.

I travelled a total of 4,000km across central and southern Russia looking at farming and other points of interest.

I saw the largest irrigation project in Europe; seemingly fell off the map deep in the south where Buddhist Temples and prayer wheels appeared; called in at Stalingrad and the railway station where Tolstoy died; played guitar with a distant relative of Neil Young; saw massive land areas not being farmed; saw massive land areas being farmed and then last night the World Cup final.

I will write up some of the more interesting and academic points in due course but I think a quick precis of the current farming picture might be useful.

The Russian grain harvest is well underway in the hot, dry regions south of Rostov and has started to gain momentum in the more central regions.

Crops and yields are looking good, timely rain kept the plants green and growing for longer with decent grain fill likely to boost output.

Last reported average total grain yield was 3.63mt/ha, up on last years 3.09mt/ha (we should see more up to date figures released later today).

That included wheat at 3.78mt/ha (2013 3.22mt/ha); barley 3.70mt/ha (2013 3.35mt/ha) and oilseed rape at 1.70mt/ha (2013 1.72mt/ha).

The spring crops of corn, sunflower, soya and sugar beet etc have also benefited from the rain and are growing well under hot temperatures and blue skies although they are a long way from harvest yet.

We are also still a long way from completing the grain harvest but based on what I saw on the 2014 4kkm Russian Crop Tour it looks like it might be a good year for Russian farmers.

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

Ukraine harvest update

To date Ukraine has cut 891kha or 9% of the planned area producing 2.5mmt of grain with an average yield of 2.78mt/ha.

This compares to the same date last year when 2,174kha was cut giving an average yield of 2.55mt/ha.

The yield might be up because of a combination of no Crimea which is generally lower yielding and would skew the average downwards and better growing conditions producing a better crop.

But I am having difficulty in reconciling the shortfall of 1.2mha harvested, some of that will be Crimea but not all of it surely.

Is the conflict having a bigger impact than I first estimated?

The latest figures include 227kha wheat yielding 2.72mt/ha; 655kha barley yielding 2.81mt/ha; 15kha peas yielding 1.81mt/ha and 112kha winter oilseed rape (or canola) yielding 1.66mt/ha.

Russian Ukraine grain exports unlikely to decrease

During the 2013-14 marketing year (1st July to 30th June) Ukraine exported 30.4mmt of grain compared to 22.0mmt last year.

That's an increase of 38% and included 9.1mmt of wheat, 2.6mmt of barley and 18.7mmt of corn.

By 25th June Russia had exported 25.2mmt of grains, an increase of 61.5% on the previous year.

That included 18.2mmt of wheat, 2.6mmt of barley and 4.5mmt of corn.

Assuming both these countries export policies is to keep exporting to generate dollars and keeping in mind they are unlikely to be doing much trade between each other and that so far this year’s harvest is looking OK, then expect more grain not less to come out of the Black Sea ports starting anytime soon.

Russian harvest update

After a wet and windy period the current settled weather has allowed the Russian harvest to get some steam up.

The South, North Caucasus and Crimea have between them harvested 953kha or 2.1% of the planned area and produced 3.5mmt of grain.

Reported total average yield is 3.65mt/ha (which to me is a next to useless figure, imagine the USDA reporting 160 buckets [or whatever passes as a measurement over there] of grain per acre).

This includes 309kha of wheat yielding 3.67mt/ha and 352kha barley yielding an impressive 4.07mt/ha (3.69mt/ha last year).

Additionally Krasnodar, Stavropol Krais, the Republics of Adygea and Crimea have harvested 49kha (4%) of oilseedrape at a not too shabby 1.78mt/ha.

Overall not too bad and the harvest has yet to get into the more productive regions further north.

USDA crop report highlights

Highlights might be pushing it a bit but here are some headlines from Mondays USDA crop report.

Corn up 39% from 2013; soybean down 7%; wheat down 18%

Planted Acreage
Corn down 4% from 2013; soybean up 11%; wheat up less than 1%

Crop progress
silking 5% by June 29 (4 year average 9%)
condition - 1% very poor; 4% poor; 20% fair; 55% good; 20% excellent

emerged - 94% emerged by 29 June (4 year average 94%)
condition - 1% very poor; 4% poor; 23% fair; 57% good; 15% excellent

planted - 91% by June 29 (4 year average 93%)

headed - 9% by June 29 (4 year average 9%)
condition - 0% very poor; 5% poor; 26% fair; 50% good; 19% excellent

Winter wheat;
harvested - 43% by June 29 (4 year average 48%)
condition - 22% very poor; 22% poor; 26% fair; 25% good; 5% excellent

Spring wheat;
headed - 26% by June 29 (4 year average 29%)
condition - 1% very poor; 4% poor; 25% fair; 59% good; 11% excellent

headed - 31% by June 29 (4 year average 25%)
condition - 0% very poor; 3% poor; 29% fair; 56% good; 12% excellent