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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Grain Count Met With Derision

Agriculture Minister Alexei Gordeyev appeared to stretch the truth a bit Monday in his report to President Vladimir Putin on this year's grain harvest.

Gordeyev told Putin and senior government officials that a target-busting 72 million tons had been harvested to date, a figure market experts suggested echoed the old Soviet habit of reporting only good news.

The bad news is that the figure reflects so-called bunker weight, not cleaned weight, the accepted standard for gauging the harvest that can be as much as 10 percent less.

"Our forecast that we would harvest 70 million cleaned-weight tons will be fulfilled," Interfax quoted Gordeyev as telling Putin, adding the harvest would be completed in a week to 10 days.

No experts, however, could be found who shared Gordeyev's optimism.

Dmitry Rylko, director of the Institute for Agricultural Market Studies, said Russia would be hard-pressed to even hit 65 million tons this year. "Prices are growing, but despite the low harvest Russia continues to export because prices are growing on Russia's main export markets as well," he said.

Unusually heavy rains and a weak crop have led experts to expect a harvest 25 percent lower than last year's record 86.6 million cleaned-weight tons, which made Russia a major grain exporter for the first time since the Soviet collapse. But while market watchers have repeatedly downgraded their forecasts to as low as 63 million tons, the Agriculture Ministry has revised its target only once -- from 75 million to 70 million tons.

Adding to the confusion, conflicting harvest reports from the regions have made it difficult to estimate how large the harvest actually is, said Andrei Sizov, managing director of market research agency SovEkon.

"Government officials are inflating figures for their own prestige without thinking about the consequences it will have on the market," Sizov said. "When the market realizes what has happened, it will be the consumers who pay the price out their own pocket."

He cited improbable reports from Bashkortostan and Novosibirsk. "I was surprised when I saw figures coming out of Bashkortostan on Sept. 23 saying 99.8 percent of arable lands have been cleared with a yield of 1.4 million tons, and a week later I saw revised figures that said 85 percent of the harvest was complete and somehow the harvest had grown by half a million tons to 1.9 million. I want to know where this half a million came from.

"The same week, officials from the Novosibirsk region said 10,000 hectares of land had been cleared with a yield of 200,000 tons, that's 20 tons to a hectare, it makes record figures from Holland, where they'd gotten 7 tons to a hectare, look like a walk in the park."