Aug. 21 - The wheat harvest is beginning in central Russia, but drought has damaged the crop, leaving farmers little grain to sell abroad and Russia is mulling a grain export ban. Joanna Partridge reports.
A searingly hot summer - after a freezing winter and dry spring - has damaged Russia's wheat crop. For the second time in three years, central Russia has been hit by drought. The harvest is underway in the Ural mountains - but farmers are disappointed, says the head of the district's agriculture department. SOUNDBITE: Vladimir Semyonov, Head of Chebarkul district Agriculture Department, saying (Russian): "You see for yourself, an ear is just 30 centimetres high, an ear is very small, therefore the yield is only 400, or maybe with God's help 500 kilos per hectare." Russia's two main grain market analyst groups have cut their forecasts. There are fears all the wheat being harvested here will be used to feed cattle in Russia, instead of being sold abroad or used for next year's seeds. Some estimates suggest the national wheat harvest will be 45 million tonnes, less than half of last year's. Russia's agriculture minister has ruled out a grain export ban but global traders fear it could still be an option. David Hallam from the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation says there's no food crisis yet, but they're keeping a close eye on the harvest. SOUNDBITE: David Hallam, Director of Trade and Markets, United Nations Food And Agriculture Organisation, saying (English): "It looks like Russia production will be down, but how much down we don't really know yet. The Russian minister is being reassuring and saying there should be 12 million tonnes available for export and so on but let's see how that situation develops." The drought comes as Russia looks to become the world's second-largest wheat exporter behind the U.S. It's also aiming to reduce food imports This year's poor harvest may prevent that. And it's not just Russia which has been hit. Dry weather has slashed grain supply from India to the U.S. and pushed global wheat prices higher. Joanna Partridge, Reuters