An industry estimate that Russia's grain crop will "exceed 90m tonnes" this year may prove conservative, to judge by the growth in winter plantings, a leading analyst has said.
Russia, which on latest Washington data has overtaken the US to become the third-biggest wheat producer, could well match last year's 97m-tonne harvest, Andrey Sizov, the managing director of Moscow-based SovEcon, said.
"The crop could even do better," he told Agrimoney.com.
His assessment followed a rise more than 18m hectares in winter grain plantings, which have historically proved more variable than spring plantings.
"The spring crop area remains relatively stable," Mr Sizov said, noting the inability of many areas, such as Siberia and the Urals, to plant meaningful amounts of winter grain because of the risk of winterkill.
The main reason to question an upbeat prediction was that Russia appeared overdue for a season plagued by weather setbacks.
"Typically we have had pretty bad crop years every five years," Mr Sizov said, pegging the crop at 90m-97m.
Russian grain production
2010-11: more than 90m tonnes
2009-10: 97m tonnes
2008-09: 108.1m tonnes
2007-08: 81.8m tonnes
Sources: FSSS/ Russian Grain Union
"The crop in 1998 was pretty bad, and there were problems in 2003. But that's the last difficult year we had."
While temperatures had this winter proved cold, a blanket of snow appeared thus far to have prevented a repeat of seven years ago, when 22% of the autumn-sown crop in the Southern district was lost to winterkill.
SovEcon has estimated that 16.5-17.0m hectares of autumn-sown grain will make it into the spring, compared with 16.7m hectares, post-winterkill, a year ago.
Mr Sizov's comments followed a forecast from Arcadiy Zlochevskiy, the head of Russian Grain Union, that grain production will "exceed" 90m tonnes.
Mr Zlochevskiy's figure was based on an estimate of sowings of a little under 48m hectares, comprising 18m hectares of winter plantings and a possible reduction in the spring grain area.
The US Department of Agriculture earlier this month raised its estimate of Russia's wheat output last year by 2.2m tonnes to 61.7m tonnes, overtaking America, which produced 60.3m tonnes.