* Wider Black Sea winter plantings to see losses
* Wheat price keeps gain after USDA downgrade
By Aleksandras Budrys and Pavel Polityuk
MOSCOW/KIEV, Aug 13 (Reuters) - Relentless drought is
threatening Black Sea winter grain crops -- key to the region's
2011/12 harvest -- with farmers switching a third of land used
for sowing in Russia to spring varieties, keeping wheat prices
While the impact of severe dry and hot weather on this
year's Russian harvest is clear, pushing the government to ban
exports, volatile markets are increasingly anxious about
conditions for next year's crops -- the success of which is
crucial to maintain Russia's long-term ambition to be a reliable
Russian First Deputy Prime Minister Viktor Zubkov said the
sowing area for winter grains for the 2011 crop may fall by one
third to 12 million hectares, citing an Agriculture Ministry
"Therefore, six million hectares will have to be sown with
spring grains," Zubkov told reporters after a governmental
commission meeting on the drought.
Zubkov also said a ban that is about to halt Russia's grain
exports and is designed to restrain domestic food prices amid
its worst drought in more than a century, will not be lifted
earlier than its Dec. 31 expiry.
That contrasted sharply with comments from Russian President
Dmitry Medvedev who said on Thursday the ban could be lifted
before its planned Dec. 31 expiry, depending on the harvest.
Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has said it could last into 2011.
The drought was instrumental in causing the U.S. agriculture
department on Thursday to slash its global crop outlook more
than expected to 645.73 million tonnes.
That reassessment of the global crop, coupled with prospects
of higher U.S. exports, kept benchmark U.S. wheat futures on an
upward trajectory. Chicago Board of Trade (CBOT) wheat for
September delivery rose 1.44 percent to $7.23-1/4 a bushel,
close to 2-year highs hit last week.
Putin quizzed the head of the anti-monopoly watchdog, Igor
Artemyev, on whether the ban was already restraining food price
"Hang on...I would like to get it right for myself. So you
think that there was still a certain rise (in prices) and you
are not seeing any fall?" Putin asked in a meeting.
"We do not see it yet. The export ban announcement of course
should have had a positive impact on price stabilisation inside
Russia, we are expecting it as an economic trend but do not see
it yet," Artemyev said in a transcript posted on a government
UKRAINE LOSES GROUND TOO
The sowing of winter wheat traditionally starts in August.
The winter crop accounts for 90 percent of Ukraine's total wheat
harvest, and in Russia winter grains account roughly for 40
percent of the grain total.
Ukraine is poised to decide next week on proposals to impose
a limit on its exports.
The country harvested 28.5 million tonnes of grain as of
Aug. 13, 19.9 percent less than at the same date a year ago, a
local news agency said.
Ukraine's weather forecasters said there was no reason to
start winter sowing until the end of August because the upper
level of the soil had no moisture.
"The situation with winter sowing will not be favourable by
the end of August," Anatoly Prokopenko, deputy director of the
Ukrainian Hydrometcentre government weather forecasting service,
"Ukrainian southern and eastern regions will stay without
rains, while insignificant rains could fall on other parts of
the country," he said.
Elsewhere, Hungary's almost completed wheat crop came in at
3.72 million tonnes by Aug. 11, down 16 percent from last year
and a fifth below the five-year average, the agriculture
Hungary's crop has also been hit by adverse weather,
including floods earlier this year. The reduced crop also
reflects decisions by farmers to plant less wheat for this
harvest than previously.
(Additional reporting by Gleb Bryanski in Moscow, writing by
Veronica Brown, editing by Anthony Barker)