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Unusual Cold Threatens Russian Fruit Crop

The cold weather could lead to fruit shortages.

The cold weather could lead to fruit shortages.

Russian agricultural officials say the abnormally cold temperatures are certain to have an adverse effect on this year's harvest.

In Saratov Kray, where temperatures have dropped to as low as -35 Celsius, First Deputy Minister of Agriculture Anatoly Kutsenko said only about half of the country's grapevines are sheltered by protective earthen barriers.

"Those parts of the grapevines that are above the earthen barriers could perish," he said.

Elsewhere, the problem is much the same.

In Krasnodar Kray, located on the Black and Azov seas, the head of the horticulture and viticulture department, Yevgeny Kritsky, said temperatures have dropped in some places to -31 Celsius and have been accompanied by strong winds.

"As concerns apples and plums," Kritsky said, "it should be expected 10 to 30 percent of them will die off."

Kritsky said just as alarming for the region is the lack of snow, which has sparked fears that more than just the fruit crop will be affected.

The chief agriculturalist of the Rostov-on-Don region, Igor Tatyanko, said the lack of snow cover on the fields, which acts as insulation against the frigid air, means autumn wheat in the area may be ruined.

"As soon as the temperature goes up, we will take the wheat crops for accelerated cultivation to see if the fall crops have survived," Tatyanko said. He added that he feared it would be necessary to simply "plow up the fields and use them for the spring sowing."

In Kalmykiya, where temperatures have ranged between -10 to -20 Celsius, more than 20 degrees below normal, Deputy Agriculture Minister Gennady Ragozin said "the trees aren't damaged but the buds are frozen over and it looks like there won't be a harvest at all."

In Astrakhan, north of the Caspian Sea, officials say as much as 70 percent of fruit from orchards may be lost this year.

In Daghestan, an emergency situation has been declared for the fields and vineyards in the area around the provincial capital, Makhachkala, and 11 other districts.

Daghestani Deputy Minister of Agriculture Bashir Baytemirov called it a "catastrophe" and said damage to the harvest would be measured in the billions of rubles.

Russian agricultural officials concede there will be substantial damage to this year's fruit crop. They said damage to fruits such as strawberries that grow low to the ground will be minimal and that orchards in northern areas of Russia would not be affected, since they grow in areas where temperatures of -30 or -35 Celsius are common.

Compiled from agency reports

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