Favourable weather is likely to help the Black Sea region's three top grain producers -- Russia, Ukraine and Kazakhstan -- restore grain output this year after a shattering fall in 2012, analysts and officials said.
Russia, usually one of the world's top wheat exporters, was hit by drought last year, which slashed the grain harvest by a quarter to 71 million tonnes and forced the country to step up imports to cover domestic demand.
Kazakhstan's grain harvest, hit by a severe drought, more than halved to 12.9 million tonnes by clean weight last year from a post-Soviet record of 27.0 million tonnes in 2011. Ukraine's crop fell by 20 per cent to 46.2 million tonnes.
But this year's weather conditions look much better and analysts say the harvests are likely to rise, despite smaller sowing areas.
The Russian agriculture ministry targets a grain harvest of 95 million tonnes this year and expects to sow 33 million hectares to spring grain.
Grain Union head Arkady Zlochevsky however said that spring grain was likely to be sown on a smaller area than expected -- at about 28 million hectares, flat year-on-year.
"If we sow as much as last season and if we don't have any cataclysms with the winter crop, then with average weather conditions we can expect to harvest 90 million tonnes of grain," Zlochevsky said.
He said the condition of the winter grain crop had improved recently, particularly, in Russia's South region.
Meanwhile, Russia's winter grain plantings are in worse condition than the multi-year average in the main southern breadbasket region due to unfavourable winter weather, forecasters said.
The percentage of crops in a poor state stood at 10.5 per cent, about 1.5 percentage points more than the long-term average, according to the head of state forecaster Rosgidromet.
More crops in southern regions, which account for about a third of Russia's total grain crop, were at the risk of cold weather returning after abnormally high temperatures, Alexandr Frolov said.
But authorities of Russia's Krasnodar region, a key wheat exporting area, have said the region may double the grain harvest this year thanks to an average level of spring grain crop and high level of winter grain crop.
Krasnodar may harvest 10.9 million tonnes of grain this year, including 7 million tonnes of winter wheat, it said in a statement, adding that 90 percent of the region's winter grain crops were in good condition.
Grain in Kazakhstan will be sown on a total area of 15.9 million hectares, including wheat on 13.1 million hectares, which is 329,000 hectares, or two per cent, less than in 2012, the Agriculture Ministry said this week.
The Central Asian nation's main grain growing regions in the north will start sowing after May 20, Agriculture Minister Asylzhan Mamytbekov told reporters.
Mamytbekov said Kazakhstan's annual grain crops averaged 17.7 million tonnes in the 2008-12 period. He declined to give any early estimates for this year's harvest.
"The volume of moisture in the soil this spring allows us to hope for good sprouting. In some areas, this level of spring moisture will be enough even for bushing out. But in the final account, everything will depend on rains in the summer," he said.
Ukraine, which has already started 2013 spring grain sowing , plans to harvest no less than 50 million tonnes of grain this year against 46.2 million tonnes in 2012.
The agriculture ministry has said a higher crop could be achieved due to much better condition of winter grain crops and despite a 10 per cent fall in the 2013 spring grain sowing area.
More than 91 per cent of Ukrainian winter grain crops were in good or satisfactory condition as of late February versus 66 per cent at the same date in 2012, according to the data provided by analyst UkrAgroConsult.
It said 62.2 per cent of the sown area was in good condition compared to 26.8 per cent a year ago.
The ministry has said that no more than 400,000 hectares of winter crops were damaged by frost and could be reseeded, while weather forecasters predicted a reseeding of up to 800,000 hectares.
"Drought in autumn and ice crust this winter have damaged crops in the Crimea, Sumy, Chernihiv and Kherson regions," Tetyana Adamenko, head of the state weather forecasting centre's agriculture department, told Reuters this week.
-- Pavel Polityuk and Polina Devitt are Reuters correspondents in Kiev and Moscow respectively. Additional reporting for Reuters in Kazakhstan by Raushan Nurshayeva in Astana and Dmitry Solovyov in Almaty.