Black Sea region winter wheat entered dormancy with unfavorable conditions. The main growing regions from eastern Ukraine through southwest Russia sustained a harsh drought in the summer and fall of 2020. Rainfall amounts during that time were only 25% of normal in many instances. This coincided with heat as well, leading to very dry soils. Producers held out for rain but that didn't come in any significant sense before the killing frost.
Producers that did seed their wheat regardless, did so under poor growing conditions. The region saw maybe four weeks of below normal rainfall, though it occurred in October into November. The first frost was about on average during November across the region. The struggling crop had very little time to build root systems before going dormant.
Fast forward through the winter and it has been unusually warm. Temperatures in general have been roughly 2 to 4 degrees Celsius (roughly 4 to 6 degrees Fahrenheit) above normal in Ukraine and 1 to 3 degrees Celsius (2 to 5 degrees Fahrenheit) above normal in southwest Russia since the first freeze. The region did has not had any Arctic cold yet.
The above-normal temperatures have led to below-normal snowfall for the region thus far this winter, and areas over the south have seen more rain than snow. Coincidentally, snow cover across the region had been almost absent until this week. Fresh snow has fallen in Ukraine this week but most of southwest Russia is devoid of snow cover. This will mean that winter wheat is susceptible to winterkill should Arctic air make its way into the region, especially in Russia.
And, the Arctic blast is indeed coming. Behind a system this Jan. 15 weekend, temperatures across the region will crash well below normal, and will intensify behind another system Jan. 17. For the growing regions in Ukraine and Russia, low temperatures are forecast to drop into the minus 12 to minus 20 Celsius range (10 above zero to minus 4 Fahrenheit) over the weekend into early next week. Exposed wheat crowns that had already struggled to get established during the fall season will be highly susceptible to possible winterkill.
The Arctic cold wave will last through Jan. 20 in Ukraine and Jan. 21 in southwest Russia before a warmer trend replaces the Arctic air. But, by then, the damage may have already been done.
John Baranick can be reached at email@example.com
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