Three Russian grain regions declare emergency over cold weather, frost damage

By Olga Popova

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Three of Russia's key grain-growing areas declared a state of emergency on Wednesday, citing May frosts that have caused severe damage to crops and will reduce this year's harvest.

The central regions of Lipetsk, Voronezh and Tambov all imposed emergency measures.

"The frosts that hit in early May led to catastrophic consequences," Igor Artamonov, the governor of the Lipetsk region, said on the Telegram messaging app before signing the emergency decree.

"We must understand that this year's harvest will be much smaller than the previous one."

In neighbouring Voronezh, the regional agriculture ministry wrote on Telegram: "According to preliminary data, the area of dead or severely damaged crops has exceeded 265,000 hectares," the regional agriculture ministry said on Telegram.

In Tambov, further east, Governor Maksim Yegorov signed a similar order, with his administration citing "early May frosts that have killed crops and damaged perennial plantings".

All three regions are part of Russia's fertile Black Earth region. Russia is one of the world's top grain producers and exporters.

Besides grain, the regions produce crops such as potatoes, sunflowers, sugar beet and fruit. The statements did not make clear how each of these crops might be affected by the frost.

The Voronezh ministry said the damage stemmed from frost on the nights of May 3-4 and May 4-5, when the air temperature had fallen to -4.6 Celsius (23.7 Fahrenheit) and the soil temperature to -5C (23F).

It said declaring a state of emergency would enable farmers to "document the objective impossibility of achieving target indicators", which they are obliged to hit in order to receive subsidies, and also to apply for insurance payments.

Authorities in Tambov said temperatures had dipped as low as -5 C on four nights. They said the regional agriculture ministry could apply to the government for subsidies.

Industry analysts have noted frosts in a number of regions of central European Russia, the Volga and the south of the country. They say the regions are now facing a further wave of cold snaps that will affect the condition of crops after an early, warm spring.

Analysts have already reduced their forecasts for the 2024 grain harvest because of dry weather in the south, but the impact of the frosts has not yet been included in forecasts.

In mid-April, the Agriculture Ministry said the 2024 grain harvest may drop to 132 million metric tons from 144.9 million tons in 2023.

(Reporting by Olga Popova, writing by Vladimir Soldatkin, editing by Mark Trevelyan, Mark Heinrich, Ron Popeski and Deepa Babington)