Russia's hopes of a 32% rebound in winter grains production may prove "optimistic" given the lack of snowfall which is leaving many seedlings exposed to sub-zero temperatures which have already led to crop losses.
Russia's agriculture ministry on Wednesday pegged the winter grains crop to be harvested in 2013 at 36.8m tonnes, a sharp increase on the 29.2m tonnes reaped this year, when a double whammy of winter cold and spring drought hurt production.
Indeed, net year a higher yield, estimated at 2.7 tonnes per hectare, will more than make up for a drop in winter grain sowings to 15.9m hectares this year, from 16.3m hectares for the 2012 crop.
The ministry last month cut its winter plantings estimate from 16.8m hectares, after poor weather, largely residual dryness, deterred many farmers from seedings.
However, Andrey Sizov, managing director at influential consultancy SovEcon, said that the estimate of a 36.8m-tonne harvest may prove too high, to judge by recent yield history, and that cold temperatures which have already begun to kill some crops.
"We have not had any improvement in conditions since the autumn. In many places, they are getting worse and worse," Mr Sizov told Agrimoney.com.
"Right now, many regions in Russia are not covered by snow. But temperatures are getting down to minus 15-20 degrees Celsius," a level which, if it reaches below the surface far into the soil, can kill plants.
"We have seen crops begin to die," he said, naming the Volga Valley, the southern area of Rostov, and Voronezh, in the black earth district, as among regions at risk.
The caution, from a group which had previously been reassuring over winter grain prospects, was echoed in Ukraine by Agritel's Kiev office, which cautioned that farm operators "worry about the weather condition in the Black Sea".
While crops in large swathes of Ukraine were protected from cold by adequate snow cover, that "is not the case in the south of the country", Agritel said, adding that "the same anxiety exists in the south of Russia".
The consultancy also cautioned that some areas being threatened by the cold were "those that were already under water stress", limiting germination.
"Some crops did not develop enough. The situation should be followed with more attention by agricultural operators."
A disappointing winter grains harvest would hamper Russia's ability to replenish its supplies and maintain its place as a key exporter, which was maintained early in 2012-13 largely by inventories left over from a strong harvest last year.
Russian wheat stocks at farms, procurement and processing companies, excluding small farms, were as of December 1 down 40% year on year at 15.2m tonnes, according to SovEcon analysis of official data.
While lost winter crops can be replanted, spring-sown grains tend to yield less.
The diminishing hopes for winter grains in Russia contrasts with improving sentiment towards US wheat which, having entered dormancy in its worst condition on record thanks to a lack of moisture, now looks in line for moisture.