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Kazakhstan faces low grain yield in 2012
Last year’s bumper crop will help country avert crisis, observers say
By Gulmira Kamziyeva
ALMATY – Unfavourable weather – including a drought – in 2012 will prevent Kazakhstan from netting a big crop, Ministry of Agriculture agronomists acknowledge.
“There was not enough rain in the spring, and the summer has been unusually dry and hot,” said Bakythan Yesembeyev, a farmer from Almaty Oblast. “It is a disappointing crop. I am getting a little over 800kg per hectare. … It’s tough to harvest this year – when temperatures break 40° centigrade, it’s hard for our workers in the field.”
Yesembeyev’s yield is fairly representative of expectations. Ministry of Agriculture data indicate the country will produce about 12.8m tonnes of grain this year, an average yield of 800 to 1,000kg per hectare. That figure is borne out not just by Yesembeyev’s haul but by the fact that farmers have harvested about 45% of their grain so far (650,000ha of the 1.4m planted) within that range, according to an Agriculture Ministry statement.
Last year, Kazakhstan produced more than 27m tonnes, an average yield of about 3,000kg per hectare. But 2011 seems to have been an exception, following 2010’s harvest of 12m tonnes.
“It is obvious that we are not going to have a bumper crop this year,” said Mekhlis Suleimenov, a member of the National Academy of Sciences of Kazakhstan and chief researcher at the A. I. Barayev Grain Farming Research and Production Centre. “But it is hard to predict how far below average it will be.”
Given the similarity between the 2010 and 2012 harvests, Suleimenov said this year isn’t really unusual.
“In Soviet times we experienced the same fluctuations,” he said. “We often produced a bumper harvest one year, and a poor harvest the next. ... With last year being a good one, this year’s poor harvest will not be such a big deal.”
While farmers are worried about losses, and consumers about price increases, agronomists contend that last year’s bumper crop will insulate Kazakhstan from a crisis.
Weather, human error affect crop
Weather and poor practices combine for a poor yield, former agriculture minister Baltash Tursumbayev said.
“Nature is half the problem, but the other half is human error. First, you need to use good seeds; 70% of our seeds aren’t. Second, we mismanage the soil and don’t fertilise,” he said.
Even after last year’s strong harvest, the government implemented the “Social Modernisation of Kazakhstan” programme, according to the Agriculture Ministry.
The project pushed for improving seed quality and making sure farmers were educated about providing proper nutrients early in the growing cycle. Yesembeyev, though, said the weather is the bigger culprit. “I always use the same quality grain and fertilise, but last year I produced 2,300kg per hectare, and this year less than half that,” he said.
Ramifications of low yield
With lower yields, farmers might have to raise prices, making basic foodstuffs costlier. But experts differed on how much of an effect there might be.
Farmer Myrzabek Alpamysov, head of the Bidai farm, said the drought destroyed about 30% of his crop but he refused to speculate on prices. “We’ll harvest the whole crop first, and then we’ll talk,” he said.
Yesembeyev, though, said farmers would be forced to raise prices.
And Kanat Berentayev, an economist from the Kazkhstani Institute of Political Solutions, forecasted higher prices even though the country has a stabilisation stockpile of 2.6m tonnes and last year’s surplus grain.
Although some other world grain producers are also worried about harvests, global international wheat futures for September delivery were down 3 cents (4.6 KZT) per bushel and the prediction was that prices would fall further when Black Sea regional harvests reach the market.
Kazakhstan, which consumes 8m tonnes of wheat yearly, won’t run out of bread, but it might run out of grain early next year, Tursumbayev warned.
“We must keep a close eye on what the authorities are doing with the grain,” he said. “There have been years in which officials decided how much was needed for domestic consumption and how much could be sold for export, and Russian businessmen shipped the grain out of the country.”
Suleimenov was less pessimistic. Last year’s bumper crop means farmers will have enough seeds to plant the 2013 crop and grain prices won’t skyrocket, he said.
Parliament, though, is prepared to act if prices go up, said Svetlana Romanskaya, a lower-chamber MP from the ruling Nur Otan Party. For example, Kazakhstan might reduce exports to hold down grain prices, she said.