Cooler May could rescue Russian wheat crop after record April: Braun

By Karen Braun

NERVILLE, Ill. – World wheat prices earlier this week retreated from multi-month highs as some rain was finally expected for Russia’s dry crop, but those rains were somewhat dismal and the forecast is dry again, threatening stop the harvest of the main exporter.

Medium to cool temperatures are expected in southern Russia in the first half of May following record heat in April, and cooling could be key to avoiding significant crop losses amid an unusually dry spring.

Southern Russia, where more than 30% of the country’s annual wheat crop is produced, experienced its driest April in a decade as rainfall amounted to just a quarter of normal for the month. Temperatures were likely record highs for April, nearly 10 degrees Fahrenheit above average.

Such a dry and warm combination of April has not been observed in southern Russia in at least three decades. The closest example was 2012, when Russia’s wheat-only production recorded its worst relative performance of the post-Soviet era.

Dryness may continue in southern Russia, as weather models on Thursday pegged May precipitation at about two-thirds of normal by the middle of the month, but average or below-average temperatures should prevail. Russia’s best overall wheat yields generally occur in May in the cooler south, sometimes compensating for moisture deficits.

Another possible salvation for crops in southern Russia is the well above average soil moisture so far this year. Soil moisture is also strong in regions where spring wheat is grown, which accounts for about 27% of Russia’s total wheat crop. July is the critical period for that crop to maximize yield.

Russian agricultural consultancy Sovecon two weeks ago estimated the 2024 wheat crop at 93 million tonnes, close to last year’s levels, and other analysts have a similar view. The United States Department of Agriculture will provide its first official forecast next Friday.


Crop losses in Russia could be a boon for other global wheat suppliers, although alarm bells are not ringing yet as Russia has been exporting record volumes recently. Russia has doubled its wheat harvest in the last 20 years and is now responsible for a fifth or more of all wheat exports.

Years ago, Russian wheat production had an unpredictable reputation due to volatile fluctuations in yields, although results have been more stable and superior in recent years. It has been a while since Russia suffered a wheat disaster, but the 2021 harvest was around 10 million tonnes below initial expectations due to unfavorable weather.

That eased Russian export supplies in the 2021-22 season, although other exporters took advantage of some of that slack, especially when prices rose after the invasion of Ukraine. India, an intermittent exporter, shipped a whopping 8 million tonnes that year.

India’s wheat stocks are now at their lowest level in 16 years, and the country could be forced to import wheat for the first time since 2017. India imported 6 million tonnes of wheat in 2016-17 and around 1 .2 million in 2017-18.

Australia, which exports most of its crop, had a record wheat crop in 2021-22 and was the second largest exporter behind Russia. Australia’s wheat production is highly dependent on global weather patterns, and the recent El Niño is not ideal.

Australia’s recently harvested 2023-24 crop was about a third smaller than the previous year, and exports are forecast to fall by a similar degree, by more than 11 million tonnes. France, the main exporter, is also facing problems with its harvest, and the European Union’s next wheat harvest could be the lowest in four years.

The United States, which was last the world’s top wheat exporter in 2016-17, has sold an above-average amount of wheat for export in the 2024-25 season that begins June 1. That could help U.S. wheat shipments recover from a 52-year slump. low in 2023-24. Karen Braun is a market analyst for Reuters. The opinions expressed above are his own.

This article was generated from an automated news agency feed without modifications to the text.

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