This year farmers in many places of Black Sea region should rather save for a rainy day. Indeed, the precipitations were scarce during winter and two first months in spring, strengthening water deficit in this large wheat production area. The rains arrived in May, but the damage caused by drought and cold snaps is irreversible in many places.

When the weather is blowing hot and cold

This year nature doesn’t stop playing tricks with farmers. The second week of May, snow fell in the north of Poland, in Belarus and in some places in Russia. In the Carpathians, in the west of Ukraine, snow covered the mountains with a thick layer of 15 cm. Well, it turns out that three winter months passed without snow (we wrote about it here), but May decided to fill this gap. It is clear that such weather does not please farmers at all who were waiting for the precipitation but not for cold temperatures.

As a reminder, the snowless winter 2019/20 didn’t help to improve the situation with soil moisture reserves throughout the Black Sea region. So, the agriculture producers observed with sadness a rapid degradation of winter crop conditions. After dry autumn and winter, the soil couldn’t last long without rains. March ended without rain, the weather forecast promised precipitation in mid-April, but their level was largely insufficient. Many analysts began to lower their wheat crop forecasts in the region. However, the first significant rains finally arrived in May, since then the accumulation of precipitations shows 2 profiles depending on the regions.

In the central and northern regions of Ukraine and Russia, the precipitation level is estimated in the first decade of May at more than 25 mm. The mild winter allowed the good development of winter crops and rather cold temperatures in spring reduces the need for water. Rains arrived at the elongation stage of wheat, so the impact of drought should be moderate or even insignificant in some places.

In the southern territories, the situation is different. The precipitation level is below 25 mm and the rains, less heavy than in other places, came too late. Damages are irreversible for most winter wheat and barley crops and to a lesser extent for rapeseed. Affected areas begin in the south-east of Romania, stretching to the Stavropol territory, through the large plains of southern Ukraine with the Odesa-Nikolaev-Kherson districts. These regions account for approximately 20-30% of the corresponding national wheat production.

As a confirmation, the Ukrainian authorities have presented a first figure on the extent of the damage from the drought. They consider that 385,000 ha of winter crops are lost, including more than 150,000 ha of wheat, 125,000 ha of rapeseed and 100,000 ha of winter barley. Not surprisingly, this damage is mainly located in the south of the country. The Odesa region concentrates most of the losses with 310,000 ha lost from 1 Mha of the whole winter crops surface. Thus, a third of the area in the Odesa region, the leading wheat-producing region in Ukraine, perished as a result of the water deficit in March-April. However, the damage could exceed the official figures.

At the same time in Romania, according to the Minister of Agriculture, a very bad year for wheat is to be expected. Winter crop condition monitoring results show 100% crop damage in 10 of the 41 administrative districts.

In Russia, the situation is also very heterogeneous. As you can see in the photo below, the wheat looks very well. However, after the several frost episodes in April, some farmers have observed deaths of wheat ears. Further east, in the Stavropol territory, which is arid even in ordinary years, the effects of drought are much more visible. Official data for this region account for 30% of crop losses.

To keep it simple, it’s clear now why the analysts have some difficulties to get a consensus on the coming Black Sea region production level. As for now, the consequences of the water stress observed during spring are limited to winter crops located next to the littoral in Ukraine and Romania or in the eastern parts of the Southern Federal district of Russia. The situation should be closely watched in the coming weeks as the harvest period approaches very quickly.

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