Russian farm lobby says crop reports artificially high

Moscow | Reuters — Russian regional officials are pressuring farmers to report more grain crop than they actually harvest this year, the head of farmers’ lobby the Grain Union said on Tuesday.

Arkady Zlochevsky said the difference between the actual harvest and the declared figures was not significant. However, his comments could be troubling for international grain markets, for which reliable crop figures are a key factor in determining prices.

The agriculture ministry did not comment immediately when contacted by Reuters.

Russia, one of the world’s biggest wheat exporters, is officially expected to harvest around 103 million tonnes by clean weight this year, down two million tonnes from a year ago, but still the third-largest grain crop in its post-Soviet history.

But the Grain Union, a non-governmental farmers’ lobby group, believes real output could come in a bit lower.

“Farmers are complaining that the local authorities are pressing them to overreport harvest figures,” Zlochevsky told reporters in Moscow. He declined to say how much the official figures diverged from the real crop.

Zlochevsky said farmers did not tell him the reason for this trend. Agriculture officials in Russia set targets for the grain crop in each region, and are under pressure to fulfill those targets.

According to Zlochevsky, Russian farmers often try to underdeclare their harvest to reduce their costs while over-reporting the sowing area to qualify for more government subsidies.

Against that background, this year’s case was especially unusual, he said.

However, Dmitry Rylko, the head of IKAR, a leading agriculture consultancy, said there had long been question marks about the reliability of the grain data. That “has not changed since previous years,” Rylko said.

Farmers have already harvested 84 million tonnes of grain before drying and cleaning from 72 per cent of the planted area, according to official data.

After drying and cleaning, the crop figures will be six to seven per cent lower, Zlochevsky said.

Russia, which supplies wheat mainly to North Africa and the Middle East, is experiencing difficulties with grain statistic data this year: its official grain export data has been delayed by the wheat export tax accounting, analysts and traders have said.

According to Zlochevsky, Russia’s official September grain exports may total 4.7 million tonnes, a record for this month, though real supplies will be lower.

Reporting for Reuters by Polina Devitt; writing by Katya Golubkova and Polina Devitt.

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