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Russian wheat harvest to dip by a third

Associated Press / August 10, 2010

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MOSCOW — Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said yesterday that Russia’s wheat harvest this year will be off by more than a third, down to 60 million tons.

Last year, the world’s third-largest grain exporter harvested 97 million tons of wheat and exported 21.4 million tons.

Putin said in televised remarks that his government will not lift its ban on wheat exports until the end of the year. The ban announced Thursday has already pushed world wheat prices up.

“The question is what the country will be left with next year,’’ Putin told a government meeting. “Most of the country’s regions will enter the new year without winter crops.’’

Russian farmers already have little incentive to export as grain prices have been rising even faster in Russia than on world markets.

Most of the damage to Russia’s wheat crop has been caused by the drought, as much of the country suffers through the hottest summer since record-keeping began 130 years ago.

But wildfires raging through western Russia have spread into farmland and there are fears that more fields will be lost.

Moscow set a daily heat record of 95.5 degrees yesterday, the seventh such record this month and the 19th of the summer, said Tatyana Pozdnyakova, a spokeswoman for the city’s weather service.

Muscovites fled the capital in record numbers as extreme heat combined with acrid smoke from wildfires. More than 104,400 took planes out of Moscow on Sunday, according to the Federal Air Transportation Agency.

Analysts say the United States, Argentina, and Australia will gain the most from the spike in wheat prices, because Canada and the European Union are not expected to have abundant harvests this year.

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