By Pavel Polityuk
KYIV (Reuters) - Ukraine's grain exports could fall to around 26 million tonnes in the 2023/24 season as the grain harvest has sunk, largely due to Russia's invasion, a senior ministry official said on Tuesday.
Ukraine harvested a record 86 million tonnes of grain in 2021 and 53 million tonnes in 2022, the first year of Russia's invasion.
Ukraine has already exported 41.6 million tonnes of grain in the 2022/23 July-June season and overall exports could exceed 50 million tonnes, almost twice the estimate for the new season.
The ministry sees this year's crop at around 44 million tonnes. Taras Vysotskiy, the first deputy minister, told Reuters that the ministry was keeping the grain harvest outlook unchanged despite poor weather.
Heavy rains and chilly weather in effect halted Ukraine's sowing campaign in April and farmers resumed active work in fields only this month.
Up to half a million hectares of spring grain crops may not be sown this year because it is no longer technically possible to sow the fields in the required terms.
Vysotskiy said the ministry had slightly increased the 2023 wheat crop forecast to 17 million tonnes from the previous 16.6 million tonnes thanks to a wet spring.
"About 9 million tonnes from the new crop could be exported (in 2023/24), but given that there are carryover stocks, wheat exports in the new marketing year could be 11-12 million tonnes," Vysotskiy said.
He said the area sown to corn could be 10% less than originally expected -- 3.5 to 3.6 million hectares -- due to poor weather and the delay in sowing.
He said the harvest of corn, a major Ukrainian grain commodity, was likely to be around 22 million tonnes and that 15 million tonnes of the volume could potentially be exported.
Vysotskiy added that Ukraine consumes around 7 million tonnes of corn per season.
Ukraine is a major global grain and oilseed producer and exporter, but its production and exports fell sharply after Russia occupied a swathe of Ukrainian territory and blocked key Black Sea ports in the second half of last season.
After an almost six-month blockade caused by Russia's invasion, three Ukrainian Black Sea ports were cleared at the end of July under a deal between Moscow and Kyiv brokered by the United Nations and Turkey.
Actual grain exports from Ukraine depend on the continued operation of the corridor, which may end on May 18, as the parties have not yet agreed on its operation for a longer period.
A senior Ukrainian source said on Tuesday that talks on a U.N-brokered deal that allows the safe Black Sea export of Ukrainian grain are scheduled for Wednesday, with all sides in the negotiations involved.
Ukraine handles almost 60% of its current grain shipments through Black Sea seaports, with the remaining volumes going through small river ports on the Danube and by rail across its western border.
(Reporting by Pavel Polityuk; Editing by Bernadette Baum)