MOSCOW (AP) — President Vladimir Putin praised farmers Tuesday for making Russia's grain harvest this year the highest in post-Soviet times.
Agriculture Minister Alexander Tkachev reported to Putin on Tuesday that this year's output is expected to reach 110-115 million metric tons, the largest yield in a quarter century.
Tkachev didn't specify what the wheat harvest would be, but experts forecast production of about 72 million tons, of which 30 million tons could be exported.
Putin emphasized that Russia shouldn't rush to boost its grain exports but wait for global prices to rise.
"We shouldn't be hurrying to dump extra volumes on the market," he said.
A mild winter and a warm, wet summer have contributed to the good harvest as Russia bounces back from a 2010 drought. Russian agricultural output has gradually recovered from its tough Soviet times, when the nation had to import American wheat.
Forecasts indicate that Russia will be the world's biggest wheat exporter this year and will ship more wheat abroad than all the countries of the European Union combined. The United States lost its place as the top exporter two years ago.
"This record harvest is down to the good weather conditions over several years and an improvement in the level of agricultural technology," said Andrei Sizov, head of Moscow-based SovEcon agriculture consultancy. "The problem is that the state has started to meddle more and more frequently in the market."
Russia imposed a grain export ban in 2010, which helped contribute to bread riots in Egypt, the biggest buyer of Russian grain. The government introduced wheat export tariffs last year only to suspend them for two years this month.
Tkachev attributed the record harvest to government assistance for the agricultural sectors, adding that Russia also has been able to boost other food exports.
He told Putin that pork exports had tripled in the last five months and that gains had also been made with poultry, dairy and beef exports. He said the successes were a stark contrast with the early 1990s, when Russia relied on U.S. chicken popularly referred to as "Bush's legs" in a reference to a deal signed under then U.S. President George H. W. Bush.
The Kremlin has made "import substitution" in agriculture and other sectors its key policy priority amid the economic slowdown caused by a slump in global oil prices and bruising Western sanctions over the crisis in Ukraine.