Just-in-Time Snow to Shield Black Sea Wheat From Killer Cold

  • Temperatures may drop below -20 degrees Celsius next week
  • Snow in northeast Ukraine and south Russia to insulate crops

Snow may have fallen just in time to protect wheat from being damaged by freezing temperatures in northeast Ukraine and southern Russia.

Parts of Ukraine and Russia’s Southern District may get temperatures below minus 20 degrees Celsius (-4 Fahrenheit) by Sunday, according to data from World Ag Weather. Areas that were bare three days ago, leaving autumn-planted grains vulnerable to the cold, were covered by snow on Tuesday, satellite data show.

“Some of the most risky areas are protected now, and winter kill could be a little less than thought before,” Liza Malyshko, a grain analyst at UkrAgroConsult, said by phone from Kiev. Snow fell in northeast Ukraine Tuesday night and Wednesday, she said.

Unusually warm weather across Europe in recent weeks delayed the onset of winter hardening and dormancy, increasing the risk that cold weather could damage young plants. Russia is set to overtake the U.S. as the world’s biggest wheat exporter this season. Ukraine was the seventh-largest shipper of the grain last year, data from the International Grains Council and the European Union show.

Snow Protection

About 10 centimeters of snow is enough to protect winter grains from temperatures of about minus 20 degrees Celsius, Malyshko said. Snow depth reached 35 centimeters (14 inches) in Ukraine’s Sumy region in the northeast on Wednesday morning, as much as 20 centimeters in neighboring Poltava and 7 centimeters in Kharkiv, according to UkrAgroConsult.

Russia’s winter-wheat growing regions of Krasnodar and Stavropol are “quite protected,” with as much as 15 centimeters of snow cover in Stavropol, said Dmitry Rylko, director at the Institute for Agricultural Market Studies in Moscow. The south of the Rostov region is also covered, he said.

“Cold temperature fears for the former Soviet Union wheat areas have been tempered, as recent forecasts have downplayed the cold in many areas," CHS Hedging Inc. said in a report Wednesday.

Main Threat

The main threat of winter kill is in Russia’s central region and some adjoining areas that make up about a quarter of the country’s wheat planting, David Streit, a meteorologist at Commodity Weather Group, wrote in an e-mail. Temperatures next week are forecast to be only just low enough to kill crops, and could causes losses of at worst 2.5 percent of Russia’s area.

The south of Russia’s Volga region is still without snow, while southern areas of Ukraine also still face some risk, UkrAgroConsult’s Malyshko said. Parts of Ukraine and Russia’s grain belt are still snow free, said Mike Lee, a farm adviser based in Kursk, Russia. Underdeveloped crops, particularly in Ukraine, will be less tolerant to cold in the absence of an insulating layer, he said.

Snow covered about 30 percent of Ukraine on Tuesday, half the normal extent, from almost nothing a few days earlier, data from the Polish Academy of Sciences’ Earth Observation Group showed. Snow depth across northeast Ukraine ranged from a few centimeters to about 20 centimeters early Wednesday, based on satellite data analysis by the U.S. Air Force.

“Temperatures are dropping this week with next week’s forecast indicating light to moderate snow, so the question is, will the snow fall in time to protect the crop?” Lee said. “The next 10 days of weather, in regards to the timing of snowfall and a drop in temperatures, will be critical.”

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