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Drought Adds to Regions Declaring Emergency

Soaring temperatures across large swathes of Russia have destroyed nearly 10 million hectares of crops and prompted a state of emergency in 17 regions, the Agriculture Ministry said Friday.

Also on Friday, the state-run Moscow region weather bureau said it expected the heat wave, which has gripped the country since late June and is estimated to have already cost the agricultural sector about $1 billion, to continue into next week.

Temperatures hit 35 degrees Celsius in Moscow on Saturday, which broke the 1951 record of 33.7 C, Interfax reported, citing the bureau. It was Moscow's second straight record temperature.

The heat has forced farmers to speed up crop gathering, bringing the total grain harvest so far this year to 13.9 million metric tons as of Thursday, up 1.5 million tons from the same period last year.

Farmers harvested 4.3 million hectares, the Agriculture Ministry said on its web site. The average yield was 3.19 tons per hectare, compared with 3.23 tons last year, it said.

The Agriculture Ministry said last week that it might cut its forecast for the total grain crop to below 85 million tons, compared with the 97 million tons Russia harvested last year. The harvest may be as low as 77 million tons, Russia’s Grain Producers Union said Thursday.

SovEcon agricultural analysts on Friday cut their forecast for Russia's 2010 grain crop.

The research firm kept its forecast for the wheat crop at 49 million to 51 million tons but cut it for the barley crop, to 11 million to 13 million tons, from the previous estimate of 12 million to 14 million metric tons.

"In the Volga and individual regions of the Central, Urals and Southern federal districts, lower grain yields and total grain harvests are forecast due to the adverse affect of the drought," the Agriculture Ministry said, without elaborating.

A state of emergency due to what the grain lobby says is the country's worst drought in 130 years has now been imposed in 17 regions.

The area affected sprawls from the southern Urals and central European Russia to the Volga, the Agriculture Ministry said. A state of emergency might be declared in a further two regions.

As of Thursday, crops on a combined area of 9.6 million hectares have been destroyed. This comprises some 12 percent of all lands sown to crops in Russia, or a territory roughly the size of Hungary.

The high temperatures have also exacerbated the annual problem of forest fires. Billowing smoke and orange flames have encircled Moscow as peat and forest fires resist attempts to extinguish them.

The Emergency Situations Ministry said Friday that the amount of peat burned in the Moscow region so far this year was four times higher than last year, RIA-Novosti reported.

"If there is an open fire somewhere, then wind could spread the sparks to a distance of 20 to 30 meters, and we have to catch the fire," Alexei Gudiyev, deputy head of the ministry's Moscow region branch, said near a fire 130 kilometers southeast of the capital.

(Reuters, Bloomberg)

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