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14 Jul, 2010 04:48

Russian farmers struggle against scorching heat

Russia has been hit by the worst heat wave in the past 40 years, meteorologists say. Drought has scorched more than 20 million acres of grain and a state of emergency has been declared in a number of regions.

Lack of precipitation and temperatures hovering in the 30-36 C degree range (86-97 F) have frazzled crops in 16 regions in central and southern Russia.

Farmers have sounded the alarm, warning of dramatic grain shortages.

We're forced to sell off bulls, and are planning to slaughter cows that don't produce enough milk, in order to save grain supplies,” said Svyatoslav Egorov, a farmer from Chuvashia.

Experts warned, however, that increasing cattle slaughter would drive down the market price for meat – something that Mr. Egorov also lamented.

Sergey Pavlov, Deputy Minister of Agriculture of the Republic of Chuvashia, one of the regions affected by the heat, said the situation has been exacerbated by severe winter conditions that damaged 64 per cent of crops.

This year, we expect to get only 30-35 per cent of last year’s harvest,” Pavlov said. “Due to the extremely hot and dry summer we are experiencing a lack of drinking water. We are on constant fire alert. We’ve got emergency measures in place, with entry into woods blocked.”

However, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin expressed confidence in Russia’s ability to contain the problem, pledging subsidies and support to the farming industry.We have to nip in the bud any attempt to profit from this misfortune, the drought,” Putin urged.

Agriculture Minister Elena Skrynnik spoke on Monday during a government presidium session, putting this year’s grain forecast at 85 million tons (versus last year’s 97 million).

“I think we will be able to handle the situation and keep our export potential,” Skrynnik said during a subsequent meeting on Tuesday.