‘It isn't spring, autumn or winter’ — up to 15% of fields suffer in Tatarstan

Agriculturists are concerned about winter cereals and future harvest due to abnormally warm January

Abnormally warm and almost snowless winter in Russia created serious problems for agriculturists — winter cereals are hit. Workers of the agricultural sector are carefully following winter grains — the amount of snow in many fields is minimal, while about half of the fields are open. Experts told Realnoe Vremya how dangerous the unusually warm winter can be for agriculture, including for future sowing.

Nutritious substances of plants are consumed too much during warm weather

The situation isn’t alarming in all Tatarstan fields: the situation varies in districts depending on the amount of snow. Shoots feel fine in areas with enough snow. But there are fields with no snow, and it is very bad, agriculturists are concerned.

According to the Hydrometeorological Centre of the Republic of Tatarstan, over the last 40 years, such abnormally warm weather in early January was observed in 1981, 1984, 2001 and 2007. The thermometer read +1-2 degrees Celsius in the middle of the winter. Last year, snow cover across the republic on average was 13 centimetres thick. Now, depending on the area and districts, the cover was 9-20 centimetres high, below which plants can live. But some fields are open, which is concerning farmers a lot.

“There is also alarming data that a lot of areas with winter cereals have begun to die due to the unclear weather: it is either rime ice, snow or rain. We aren’t talking about losing the harvest at the moment, but anyway, 12-15% of the areas on average have suffered,” Chairman of the Association of Farmers, Households of the Republic of Tatarstan Kamiyar Baytemirov is assessing the damage.

Baytemirov explained that winter grains have training in cold weather in autumn — sugars are formed in cells of plants, it is a material that impedes grains from freezing. But a high temperature melts the already little amount of snow in the fields, rain also helps it. “When the amount of sugar in cells reduces, winter grains can freeze and die.” Winter grains can also be strangled when there is an ice crust after snow melts.

“There is excessive sugar consumption now. If spring drags on and the snow cover remains for long, when the temperature goes up, when plants start to breath more, they can die because of a shortage of nutritious substances,” head of the Agriculture Development Department of the Ministry of Agriculture and Food of the Republic of Tatarstan Irek Sadykov confirmed.

Nevertheless, the Ministry of Agriculture and Food doesn’t despair at the moment: “The Russian Agricultural Centre of the Republic of Tatarstan also weekly assesses the liveability of plants. The areas with dead winter grains aren’t extensive. We don’t see a tragedy at the moment. In any case, it is still early to talk about losses.”

The situation in Volga district is better than in the south. It is colder in the countryside than in the cities

“I was in Aznakayevo District on Friday. 50-60% of areas are almost free of snow, the soil is melting. Probably there is a crust, but water goes down at the same time, water is absorbed. I drove in a pin, it easily went 8-12 centimetres down. It is hard to say if this is good or bad. It is not habitual. It isn’t spring, autumn or winter. Krasnodar Krai has such a climate where winter grains occupy almost 70% of the fields as well as Volgograd and southern Saratov Oblasts: it either snows or melts. Some shoots come up, here it is 4-5 degrees warmer than in fields. There isn’t such a difference in the countryside. The temperature stays at 2-3 degrees. If it isn’t freezing cold, I see nothing wrong with this weather. On the contrary, there are advantages: 20-30% less fodder is used for animal husbandry,” Vice Chairman of the Tatarstan State Council’s Committee on Ecology, Nature, Agricultural and Food Policy Rakhir Khadeyev noted.

“The Southeast of the European part of Russia with the warmest temperatures on record is concerning more. There hasn’t been such a warm winter in the history of observation. Also, it is very dry in the south. There aren’t big problems yet. But winter grains will wake up in 1,5 months. And we are looking into the future with big concerns. It is very unusual weather. In my opinion, the Volga District has a relatively normal situation, more or less. We haven’t calculated losses and we can’t do it. But the conditions of this winter are absolutely unusual. Nobody can really explain, it is beyond our understanding,” Director General of the Institute for Agricultural Market Studies Dmitry Rylko commented on the situation for Realnoe Vremya.

“The weather provokes, but nature tries to save itself”

Water is accumulated on the fields either it snows or rains, Kamiyar Baytemirov believes. But precipitation must correspond to the season. Plants consider the abnormally warm winter as a signal that spring is starting: trees are in bud, microbiological processes begin.

“Such weather isn’t characteristic of winter, and it will certainly be freezing cold. The buds will die, winter grains can also die. It will be wrong to say that this cataclysm won’t affect the soil. The soil also participates in the general process, it has aerobic, anaerobic microorganisms. Most importantly, there must be no ice crust. We will see later how the weather will influence the state of the soil. Scientists who note the warm winter has a lot of factors. In any case, though people can’t change nature, it has a lot of reserves it can use,” the chairman of the Association of Farmers of Tatarstan considers.

Representative of the Ministry of Agriculture and Food of the Republic of Tatarstan Irek Sadykov reminded that the water reserves in the fields were good by autumn. He assumes that there can be a certain shortage of water because of the low snow cover only by the end of the winter. But a lot turns on when spring will come.

“If it is warm, snowmelt will go into rivers. If the spring is long, the water will mainly go into the soil. I don’t think that the situation is so critical. The temperature rises to +1 degree, to +2 at most. The thermometer doesn’t rise to stable positive indicators, for instance, to +5, and I haven’t noticed buds appear.”

But the weather has a safe cushion for any case, Takhir Khadeyev added: “The plants didn’t appear yesterday, all plants have sleeping buds, but nature tries to save itself in any conditions.”

“I tested the soil for a reason. Yes, there is such a risk: when the soil melts quickly, unfortunately, groundwater goes down. But it is necessary to assess the amount of precipitation. We can’t say there hasn’t been any precipitation. A part of it was snow, a part of it was rain. This year is a leap year. And the current situation confirms that one additional day usually has surprises for agriculturists,” the Tatarstan State Council deputy forecasts.

“We need cold weather and a ‘coat’”

Khadeyev paid attention to the fact that during good years losses can total 5-10% for certain reasons, they reach 40-50% during not the best seasons.

“For stability, we need cold weather and a ‘coat’ 10-12 centimetres high. I think that it will be freezing cold. It is better if snow falls on the frozen soil. Two risks aren’t excluded. If the snow falls on the melted soil, this can stimulate diseases. The cold weather without snow will harm plants. But think that agriculturists in southern districts live this way: they have either thaw or freezing cold weather. And we’ve had such abnormality for the first time. I remember that it rained in January and water was falling from the roof in 1972. The only difference is that we have had such warm weather for 1,5-2 months, which exceeds the previous limits manifolds. There was a drought in 2010. Rye and wheat adapted to it: as a human organism has hardwired capabilities, plants have reserves too,” the vice chairman of the agrarian committee of the State Council concluded.

By Yekaterina Ablayeva