World Grain News: Russia lowers grain import estimate, raises production figures

by Teresa Acklin
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   MOSCOW — Russia may import only half as much grain this year as was previously estimated, the country's Ministry of Agriculture said recently. Grain imports for 1999 are expected to reach only 8.6 million tonnes, down from the 15 million tonnes predicted earlier this year.

   Russia expects to harvest about 66 million tonnes of grain this year, the agency said. That figure is higher than previous estimates, suggesting that a drought and locusts in the key grain area in the southern portion of the country have not cut into output as severely as originally feared.

   Estimates for 1999 have fluctuated, once dropping as low as 55 million tonnes.

   As of Aug. 1, Russian farmers had harvested 19 million tonnes of grain on 19.5 million hectares, or 18% of the country's total planted area, the agency announced. However, a top grain official of the baking company Roskhlebprodukt predicted that Russia's harvest would reach only 55 to 60 million tonnes, and said the government should ask for another package of food aid from western countries to cover the shortfall.

   A 53-million tonne harvest in 1998 prompted the Russian government to accept food aid from the United States and the European Union.