KIEV, Ukraine -- Drought and heat across the European part of Russia and Ukraine are now expected to delay the sowing of winter grain crops, raising concerns that losses will extend to next year's harvests.
The sowing of winter wheat traditionally starts in August. The winter crop accounts for 90 percent of Ukraine's total wheat harvest, and in Russia winter grains account roughly for 40 percent of the grain total.
Ukraine and Russia also sow winter rye and winter barley but their acreages are not as significant.
A severe drought with temperatures reaching 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit) has hit grain-growing regions and slashed production in the crop year that started July 1.
Russia, previously the world's third-largest wheat exporter has banned grain exports until at least end-December. Ukraine, the largest exporter of barley and sixth-largest of wheat, is considering imposing export quotas, and its customs service has already blocked some shipments.
Now the threat to crops is extending into next year's harvest.
Russia's chief weather forecaster said on Thursday that the weather would further delay sowing of winter crops in the European part of Russia.
"(Winter) sowing is unlikely at least until September," Roman Vilfand, director of the Hydrometcentre government weather forecasting service, told a news briefing.
"There will be insufficient rains for the sowing till the last 10 days of August. There will be rains in the last 10 days but not very intensive," he added.
Ukraine's weather forecasters also said there was no reason to start winter sowing until the end of August because the upper level of the soil had no moisture.
"The situation with winter sowing will not be favourable by the end of August," Anatoly Prokopenko, deputy director of the Ukrainian Hydrometcentre government weather forecasting service, told Reuters.
"Ukrainian southern and eastern regions will stay without rains, while insignificant rains could fall on other parts of the country," he said.
Prokopenko said the pace and structure of Ukraine's 2011 winter sowing would depend on the weather in late August.
While Ukrainian analysts noted that local farmers would sow even in dry soil, Russian officials have said some winter grain areas will not be sown this year.
Russian Agriculture Minister Yelena Skrynnik told Prime Minister Vladimir Putin on Wednesday that farmers planned to increase the sowing area for spring grains to compensate for losses of areas they will be unable to sow for the winter crop.
"Our regions confirm that they are ready to sow 18 million hectares with winter grains, but if the weather changes then it may be 15 million hectares," Skrynnik said, according to a transcript of the meeting published on Putin's web site premier.gov.ru
"In this case we will have to increase the area to be sown with spring crops by 30 percent."
The winter grain area for the Russian 2010 crop is estimated at around 16 million hectares out of a total of 43.6 million.
Russian analysts, however, said that an increase in the spring sowing would only partially compensate for losses.
"It will not be easy to find sufficient seeds for larger spring sowing," Andrei Sizov Sr., chief executive of the SovEcon agricultural analysis firm, told Reuters on Thursday.
"Seeds from Siberia are unsuitable for sowing in the centre and along the Volga," he added.
Farmers face less of an immediate problem in Ukraine, where winter sowing extends from late August to the end of September.
"Dry autumn is not an extraordinary event for Ukraine, and farmers are sowing into a dry soil waiting for rains," said Serhiy Feofilov from UkrAgroConsult agriculture consultancy.
"We have seen no critical problems as of August 12 but can say that the start of sowing will be delayed until the first days of September. This situation just raises concerns, but everything could change in few days."
Ukraine sowed about 7 million hectares in 2010 winter grain crops, and officials have said that this year's winter sowing area could be similar.
Ukrainian traders, whose trade activity helps farmers to accumulate funds for sowing, also said that hot weather and drought would not affect sowing plans.
"I haven't met a farmer who has chosen not to sow (this season). All areas will be sown," said Volodymyr Klymenko, head of Ukrainian grain traders' union UZA.