Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin slashed the leading wheat producer’s grain harvest forecast due to a record drought, saying it would produce 10 million tonnes less grain than planned.

Russia’s grain harvest for 2010 will be 60-65 million tonnes, Mr Putin said at a meeting with Agriculture Minister Elena Skrynnik, Russian news agencies reported.

Only last week, Ms Skrynnik’s deputy had given a forecast of 70-75 million tonnes.

Russia has seen 10 million hectares of land destroyed in the drought and the new figure represents a massive fall compared with its last year’s harvest of 97 million tonnes.

Mr Putin last week shocked international markets by announcing that from Sunday Russia would ban exports to keep prices down at home and ensure there was enough feed grain for its cattle herd. The ban is to run until December 31, when it will be reviewed, the government said then.

He said Russia required 78 million tonnes of grain for its domestic needs and would be able to cover the shortfall with 9.5 million tonnes from a state fund and 21 million tonnes left over from last year’s harvest.

“If someone is waiting for December 21 or December 31 of this year then it is in vain because we are going to have to look at removing the export ban only according to the results of the harvest of the current year,” he said. Mr Putin’s decree imposing the export ban said that Russia would ask fellow members of a regional customs union – Belarus and Kazhakhstan – to make a similar move.

The Kazakhstan Agriculture Ministry’s Secretary Yevgeny Aman said that even under the most pessimistic harvest scenario “we will still be able to export grain in sufficient quantities.”

Mr Putin’s shock export announcement catapulted global wheat prices to two-year heights and sparked worries that consumers could see price rises in the most basic food items such as bread and beer. It was criticised by some Russian observers who said it would take Russia years to regain its export market position.

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