The strong start to 2012-13 for Russian grain exports does not mean the country is on track to avoid a sharp decline in shipments over the season, SovEcon said, heralding a further downgrade in its crop forecast.
Analysis of customs data indicated that Russian grain exports reached 2m tonnes in July, the first month of 2012-13, setting the marketing year off to a start beaten only once before, in 2011-12.
And exports were likely to rise further this month, to 2.5m tonnes, as extra supplies from the ongoing harvest come onstream, the influential analysis group said.
However, this does not mean that shipments can avoid a tumble from last season's 28m tonnes, "whether or not" the government imposes restrictions on exports which many observers fear.
In its July supply and demand report, SovEcon estimated Russia's 2012-13 grain exports at 13m-14m tonnes, including roughly 10m tonnes of wheat.
Battle of exporters
The strong early pace reflected in part an early harvest, which has seen farmers reap a greater area of crop so far, if with poor returns.
The average yield, at 2.25 tonnes per hectare, is down nearly 30% year on year, thanks to the damage caused by a dearth of rainfall, in areas outside the central federal district, where growers have achieved an improved result.
The rapid start was also being driven by a battle between merchants attempting to grab share of a Russian export market which, long-term, looks set to become increasingly important globally.
Russia's Summa Group, having bought a stake in state grain trader United Grain Company, was taking an "aggressive" stance, with Singapore-based Olam International appearing to play a bigger role too.
However, Russia's strong early pace of exports also looks set to be choked by higher prices which, thanks to weaker supply prospects, are losing their typical competitiveness against foreign supplies.
"Domestic prices are still growing, whereas the world market has stabilised, and the rouble is more or less stable," Andrey Sizov, the SovEcon managing director, told Agrimoney.com.
And extra upward pressure on prices was set to come from livestock producers which, having locked in limited cover so far, were set for a "big procurement drive".
This was likely to be particularly noticeable in Russia's Black Earth region, a big producer of grains for exports.
"We will see a notable decline in exports around the New Year, or even before," Mr Sizov said.
The comments come at the end of a week in which Russia's harvest, and export prospects, have been the subject of considerable debate, with Alexander Chernogorov, deputy agriculture minister, on Thursday saying the crop could be downgraded to 70m-75m tonnes.
On Wednesday, a government source said that the wheat harvest could hit 50m tonnes, implying a grains harvest of more than 80m tonnes.
Mr Sizov said that SovEcon was likely next week to revise its early-July forecast of 80m-85m tonnes.
The revised number "will be significantly lower than 80m tonnes", he said.