Warm weather poses “elevated risk” of wheat winterkill in Black Sea

3 Jan 2018 | Tom Houghton

Unseasonal warmth in the Black Sea has stoked fears of damage to the developing wheat crop, with the industry worrying that a lack of snow cover could reduce production in two of the world’s biggest exporters.

Temperatures have been as much as 10 C above average for this time of the year, with large parts of Ukraine and Southern Russia with almost no protective snow cover yet.

Those on the ground speak of spring-like conditions, with anecdotal evidence of weeds emerging through the soil where there would typically be substantial snow cover at this time of the year.

“There is an elevated risk, it’s as simple as that, but the reality is nobody knows,” said Mike Lee, Managing Director of Green Square Agro Consulting, which provides independent crop assessments and agronomy services in Russia and Ukraine.

“I suspect over the next week or two we will see a drop in temperature and then there will be fears of no snow… In all honesty, I don’t think it’s that big a deal, wheat is very tolerant.”

However, there are other factors which could come into play and affect this year’s wheat crop.

Once the temperature finally drops there remains the risk of snow cover melting and pooling in fields, damaging the crop’s development and paring back overall yields as has happened in previous years.

And, as Lee points out, the key stage affecting the development of wheat in the Black Sea is the heat of the summer, not necessarily the cold of the winter.

“I can’t believe we’re going to have another problem-free year as we have for the last two years. The whole of Russia likes to take credit for the size of the wheat crop… But the reality is rainfall has been spot on for the last two years.”

The news comes on the back of a significant rally in the price of US exchange-traded wheat contracts, where a lack of snow cover in the Central Plains and parts of the Midwest coupled with temperatures which touched as low as -23 C Monday.

Futures jumped almost 2% on the news, with some outlets speaking of “widespread winterkill” across the wheat belt.