SRUC Arable Specialists in Snowy Ukraine




1Arable specialists Julian Bell and Mark Ballingall recently visited Kiev where they spoke at an agricultural conference. The event, “AgroResources 2013 - ways to increase of agro-industrial profitability”, was organized by APK Inform, providers of agricultural market information for Ukraine. They had invited the SRUC experts because of our long history of advising agricultural projects in Eastern Europe.


In his keynote address Senior Rural Business Consultant Julian Bell compared the differences in market prices and cereal cropping margins between Scotland and Ukraine, emphasising good producers in both countries were able to achieve comparable returns. However, for Ukrainian farmers risks are greater, due to extremes of weather and the lack of the Single Farm Payment safety net. Ukrainian farmers at the conference were particularly interested to hear how the Borders Arable Monitor Farm, facilitated by SAC Consulting, helped share best practice.


Ukraine produces 44mt of cereals on 13.5 million hectares or approximately twice as much grain from four times as much arable land as the UK. Yields are around half UK levels. The industry's target is to more than double grain output to 100 million tonnes by 2020. While the potential is not in doubt there are some formidable barriers to overcome, including limited access to capital, lack of near market research, poor varieties, lack of independent advice and corruption. For example investors find ensuring fertiliser ends up on their own fields can be a major headache.


SRUC researcher and Senior Weeds Consultant Mark Ballingall used his 17 years of experience in Ukraine and Poland to highlight key agronomy issues and solutions. Winters are not what they used to be. There is slushy snow and even rain when 10 or 15 years ago minus ten to minus twenty was normal. The lack of snow is a major worry as it exposes the crops to any cold snaps that still occur.


Mark stressed that basics such as liming, soil structure, sowing or fertiliser rates and timing were the key to success. He challenged current Ukrainian farming practices, particularly applying nitrogen to snow covered fields, resulting in run off and waste of an expensive and polluting resource.


Both SRUC visitors were struck by how little up to date, independent, near-market research was being conducted in the country. Following years of under investment the average researcher is in their seventies. It not only highlighted how important it has been for Scotland to maintain a significant level of near market agricultural research but also raised collaboration opportunities for SRUC.