Friday, 17 December 2010

Happy centrally planned Christmas

The sale of fir trees in Kyiv officially started on December 10 according to Kyiv City State Administration.

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The cost of fir trees will be similar to last year's prices, with a small pine tree costing from 25UAH and a fir tree from 35UAH. Two-meter and higher pine trees and fir trees will be available from 60UAH.

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Hope there is no embargo on the export of trees.

Wheat or rape, that is the question

Sintal is replacing wheat with what they are calling “technical crops”; thats' break crops to you and me – osr, soya, sunflowers.

They are citing greater profit with analysis showing margins from technical crops at 60% and "sometimes 70%", compared with 19% from winter wheat.


The problem with financial analysis, it doesn’t always give you the full picture.

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In my experience it is dangerous to chase margins, you need an overall strategy with a mix of crops according to your competitive advantage, machinery policy and risk management.

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Sintal go on and say that they find winter wheat more vulnerable to weather conditions. All crops are vulnerable to weather, they live outside, that’s why you need a range to spread the risk.

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When you have been farming long enough you learn to accept that it’s always too hot/cold/dry/wet for any given crop at any given time.

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They'll have to update their website then, it states their goal is to become one of the leading producers of cereals in Ukraine and Europe.

Thursday, 16 December 2010

Back to business basics

Agroton has just revealed further third quarter losses.

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CEO Iurii Zhuravlov said that the group's "focus for 2010-11 was on reducing costs to become a leader in cost versus yield".

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There is this regular pattern amongst agri-business in Ukraine; spend like there’s no tomorrow, wonder why you haven’t made any profit then start cutting costs like there’s no tomorrow.

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The trick is knowing when and where to cut.

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It takes experienced and determined agronomists to know what can be cut, what can be reduced, what can be replaced, what should to be left in place and what needs to be increased to maintain viable margins.

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Unfortunately there are precious few experienced agronomists currently operating in Ukraine, there are loads of guys called agronomists but they have a veneer thin level of knowledge and are completely resistant to adopting new techniques and ideas.

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While I wish Mr Zhuralov every success I would focus on acquiring experienced and capable people with innovative ideas and agronomic knowledge and develop an agronomy strategy based on proven and reliable data.

Missing grain in Ukraine

A Swiss grain trader has asked Ukraine to probe the disappearance of $30 million worth of grain stocks.
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"I have submitted complaints in Ukraine in September with the general prosecutor," said director Olivier Broun.

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It reminds me of a similar story about the American farmer and entrepreneur, David Sweere who back in the nineties found $10 million of his grain had gone missing.

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Prime Minister Pavlo Lazarenko had stolen it and David was told in no uncertain terms to bugger off or they would kill him.

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Fortunately David was connected and knew Al Gore and Al was in the middle of negotiating a significant aid package for Ukraine at the time.

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Al popped in to Kiev and told the president an inconvenient truth of his own; a cheque was duly written in lieu of the missing grain.

That’s just great that is

The Ukrainian government just can’t get out of old habits and has extended restrictions on the export of grain until the end of March.

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Usual rhetoric about the poor harvest and how the Ukrainian government is only trying to keep food prices low for the poor, down trodden consumer followed.


“Prices on the domestic market remain very low. The market is almost dead,” said Maria Kolesnyk, an analyst at Consulting Agency AAA.

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The WTO maintains a deafening silence on the matter; perhaps we should rename them WTF!

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Sell sell sell!

My article on the land moratorium in the Kyiv Post has elicited a published response which was the general idea, to get a bit of debate going on the subject.

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Marcin Swiecicki, director of the Blue Ribbon Analytical and Advisory Centre and former minister for foreign economic relations of Poland gives a good account and strong argument for lifting the ban on farmland sales in Ukraine.

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You can read his full account here but essentially Marcin disagrees with my posit that lifting the moratorium is not necessarily a good thing for all concerned.

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He suggests that "the prospect of giving more rights to 6.9 million owners of land plots spurred defenders of the status quo, such as Michael Lee in his column “Nation should not be in rush to lift moratorium on sale of farmland”.

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I’m not sure if there are any defenders of the staus quo, I certainly haven’t read any which is why I wrote my article in the first place; just trying to give a different perspective on the subject.

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Marcin continues to disagree with my analysis and believes that the termination of the moratorium, together with the adoption of proper regulatory laws, will produce many positive results.

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Couldn’t agree more, if proper regulatory laws are implemented, and that’s a big if given the usual experience in Ukraine.

Did you miss me?

Been busy doing stuff but back in the saddle and on line and will be blogging at will although not much about agronomy in Ukraine at this time of year.

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Snow is falling and settling and we have essentially shut the gate and will look at crops in the spring once the snow has melted.

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Many agronomists and farmers spend the winter months worrying themselves silly over the state of their crops. Not me, no way, I usually head off some place warm and take a well-deserved break after a long and arduous season.

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If you do find something amiss in the fields what are you going to do about it? Diddly squat is the answer, there is nothing you can do about it is there, so why worry about something you have no control over; worry about the things you can control and concentrate on those.

Thursday, 2 December 2010

Russia to host 2018 World Cup

Congratulations Russia.

2018 gives Russia some time to get a decent team together.
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Just fancy that

According to Wikileaks a Spanish prosecutor who specialises on the activities of the Russian mafia in Spain says that Belarus, Chechnya and Russia are virtual "mafia states" and said that Ukraine is going to be one.

Where is the news in that?

It reminds me of the British MP’s expenses scandal when the Telegraph newspaper “discovered” that MP’s had been “fiddling their expenses”. It would have been news to find they had not been fiddling expenses.

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Sub soiling in the snow

Is it a crackers idea or pure genius?

Sub soiling and deep cultivations hit the headlines in Ukraine this year; well it would have done if I had written the headlines.

Spring this year was wetter than average which did nothing to encourage roots to grow deep looking for water. Added to this is the sub surface compaction that blights most of Ukraine and shallow, lazy rooted spring planted crops like soya and it becomes apparent why yields have been so low this drought year.

Would sub soiling have helped?

The theory being that deep cultivations break up compaction allowing deeper root penetration and these plants are better able to withstand drought conditions than plants growing over compaction with a shallower developed root structure.

Is there any evidence to support this?

I have data on soya grown in central Ukraine over sub soil compacted soil achieving an abysmal 0.7MT/ha and not too far away on land that had been sub soiled achieving yields of 1.5MT/ha.

Some of this uplift might have been down to different agronomy or localised rainfall at key times but surely not all of it.

OK, so let’s assume it was down to better, deeper rooting which was achieved by sub soil and we want to subsoil for the next crop. Wisdom has it that you should sub soil in the summer on dry soils to get the maximum amount of shattering and cracking.

But if we want to plant in the spring we can’t do that so we need to sub soil in the spring when the land is wet and there is a danger of smearing with very little cracking and shattering.

Which eventually brings me to my point.

Assuming you could get a sub soiler in to frozen ground and you had the horses to pull it and assuming it didn’t break; would sub soiling in the winter have a similar effect to sub soiling dry soil in the summer and the frozen, brittle soil crack and shatter in a similar manner?

Anyone want to admit to trying it?

Monday, 29 November 2010

Revolution

The Kiev emerging middle classes are protesting about a new tax regime recently introduced which targets entrepreneurs and favours the rich.
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So much so they have taken to the streets in scenes reminiscent of the Orange Revolution.

Why do Ukrainian revolutions wait until the winter, surely it would be better to revolt in the summer when staying out on the streets all night would be much easier.

Winter is here

Snowing this morning, winter is finally here.

Remember all those people telling me winter was going to arrive in a blaze of furry at the end of October and we should finish drilling early? Well they were wrong.

Saturday, 27 November 2010

Weather

Looks like the end of the mild spell, much cooler today, hats and gloves all round.

Reports of snow on the ground in southern Russia and in the UK.

As you would expect UK reporters are using words like "gripped" and "severe" whereas Russian reporters are using words like "winters here then".

Friday, 26 November 2010

How much?

Just been quoted 93,000 EURO for a new 6m Top Down.

Does that seem about right?

And can any one tell me how many horses it needs on light to medium silty clay loams. The book reckons 330 to 400HP which seems a bit excessive on these soils.

Weather

Remains mild. This continued warm(ish) spell will help those late drilled crops although there wont be much additional growth as the light intensity and daylength continue to diminish.

I have started to see a few reports suggesting the mild weather might be detrimental to the crops in ground; It's not that warm, get a grip and stop speculating, everything is fine.

You can checkout any time you like, but you can never leave

I have just spent the day trying to close down my internet account with a generally well run and un-Ukrainian like company, Volia.

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When I contacted them earlier this year to set up an internet connection they couldn't have been more helpful, nothing was too much trouble and they sent some guys round within twenty four hours to get me on line.

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"Don't give the guys any cash" they told me, "pay over the phone and please report to us if they ask for cash" which they didn't.

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I couldn't fault the level of service, brilliant, even told me to have a nice day, very unlike Ukraine.

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Then I came to close down the account.

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You have to return the equipment (modem, set top box, cables etc) to some remote out of the way office bock, spend an hour while Tanya goes through your file, fills in the forms and assess the state of the equipment that you have returned.

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Then they charge you for the missing item which included the box! 50UAH that cardboard box cost me.

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They obviously didn't want us to leave.

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Latest iron quotas

The local administration are the guys that ask us to make up yields and how much land we have combined; they hassle us that we are not ploughing or combining enough or doing it wrong; they threaten us with various “solutions” when we fail to comply with their “requests”, they are the guys that wanted to steal 100MT of grain off us for their strategic reserves.

You get the picture, basically administrators with menace.

This week they wanted to put on a party to recognise the end of harvest and to reward our best tractor drivers and combine drivers with a bun fight and prizes.

Fair enough I thought, although it all sounds a bit old school, a bit soviet.

It’s not as if the local administration had anything to do with what we are doing or had any investment in the business, far from it, all they do is to try and extort money form us so why would they want to credit our guys with doing a good job?

Well no change there then as we had to pay them for the party; we had to give them money so they could buy prizes to present our guys.

What did they present? Irons.

I thought I misheard and it was an iRon, the latest gadget from the Steve Jobs stable but no, it was electric irons.

Saturday, 20 November 2010

Ukraine grain export quotas 'cost farmers $1.25bn'

The USDA said "(Ukraine) agricultural producers estimate their losses at over $1.25bn due to restricted export of grain."

And the rest!

If you add the knock on effect of reduced inputs for this next season, the yield reduction as a result, the loss of reputation Ukraine now has as an international grain trader and the number of investors that will now not be investing as a result of the political shenanigans and I reckon the real loss is incalculable.

Friday, 19 November 2010

Ducking hell!

I moved apartment a couple of weeks ago and now live on the gloriously named “Heroes of Stalingrad Street” with some fantastic views across the river Dnieper.

Taking half an hour yesterday afternoon I thought I would go and feed the ducks that I can see from my window.

I have never met such a frightened bunch of ducks in my life. Why won’t you come and eat this flammin’ bread that I’m hurling in to the river?

Then I realised; ducks are caught and eaten by the local human population and see humans as a source of food and death. The poor little buggers thought I was going to catch them and wring their little ducky necks.

Thursday, 18 November 2010

No one likes a free loader

Here are two from the ground as it happens reports on the state of Ukraine crops as they go in to the winter, all absolutely free.

And you don't even have to visit Ukraine where it is very dangerous and smells of soup.


Imagine all the money you have just saved by not going to Ukraine not to mention saving your welfare and sanity.

Go on, do the right thing.

Ukraine autumn agronomy report – oilseed rape

It’s been one hell of a season so far for these poor little guys, drilled in to bone dry seed beds with no rain for a month and then enough to get the volunteer wheat up and over their heads. Can things get better?

In my honest opinion yes.

As is often the case oilseed rape splits in to two factions.

There are a lot of crops about that obviously got enough rain at the right time and got up and way with 100% emergence.

The Ukrainian way is to sow too many seeds anyway and when they all come up it is way too thick. However if you talk to the agronomist he will be cock-a-hoop at his lush, thick crop and wont believe me when I tell him the yield will be down as a result.

Then there are the crops that missed any rain in September and had to wait until mid October before they got going.

Emergence is patchy but even at 30 to 50 ppm2 these crops still have the potential to yield well. The question is will they be big enough to make it through the winter? At 4 to 5 true leaves they should be ok although the smaller plants will be at risk.

Weed control has generally been good but residual herbicides applied in the dry have obviously been less effective than they should be. Coupled with smaller plants and a patchy emergence I think we might have to rely on desiccants to help with the harvest.

Volunteer wheat is a problem and many crops will have taken a yield hit even though a graminicide has been applied.

Disease levels are low, no sign of phoma or light leaf spot although I did apply half rate tebuconazole both for disease and to make the plants hardier.

No insect damage even though I mixed home saved seed which wasn’t dressed, something I will do more of in the future because it works and saves money.

There are a number of stem boring insects that migrate in to the plants at this time of the year although you often don’t spot them until stem extension in the spring. A pyrethroid in with the autumn fungicide is a good bet here.

Summary as oilseed rape goes in to the winter – fair to good.

Ukraine autumn agronomy report - wheat

A couple of weeks of unseasonably mild weather has done wonders to the later sown and late emerged plants and allowed a lot of land work to be completed before the onset of winter.

Early sown wheat is now at G.S.14-15 / 21-23 with the latest sown crop at G.S.11-12.

Emergence has been good in the warm soils with up to 80% not uncommon.

Wheat plant populations in Ukraine is a hotly debated topic (well it is by me) and I will come back to this one at a later date but the aim is to achieve 450 to 500ppm2 because tillering is a bit of a problem.

Weed control is good with charlock (Sinapis arvensis) and runch (Raphanus raphanistrum) very obvious because of their size but will die out over the winter.

Plenty of volunteer rape highlighting high levels of seed loss as the rape plant very quickly matured back in the heat of the summer. Those that survive the winter will be quickly disposed of with a sniff of sulfonylurea if populations dictate.

Mix of various broad leaved weeds but at low populations, very small (cotyledon) and where we have used pendamethlin taking a hit so not expecting to see them come the snow melt.

Various thistles species continue to be problematic but in patches and rarely enough to justify spraying a complete field. When we introduce GPS technology we might map these and apply clopyralid if we can get hold of it.

I have seen some discoloured and stunted patches which I think might be early symptoms of BYDV which would fit in with the weather as there are aphids about in the crop. It could also be soil viruses, something I have been looking at in detail this year and will come back to over the winter.

Low levels (less than 5%) of a wheat bulb fly type larvae taking out tillers. I normally find these in wheat unlike my Ukrainian agronomists who consistently fail to spot them along with pretty much everything else but then again they are pretty difficult to see from the road.

Control options are a bit nuclear and not particularly effective so we will leave the little buggers for the time being, they will be something to target in the years to come as we start pushing yields up.

Summary as wheat goes in to the winter - good to excellent.

Tax doesn’t need to be taxing, or life threatening come to that

Ranked third worst in the world by the World Bank, Ukraine obviously has some serious issues over taxes.

Here’s one example, allegedly.

Tax authorities have recently been ordered to inspect all small to medium sized businesses and “find” tax discrepancies to the tune of 50,000UAH (4K GBP) per business or risk losing their jobs.
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Tuesday, 16 November 2010

What export ban?

Nibulon, Kernel and Serna have obtained nearly 53% of the grain export quota or 2.182MMT according to the Ukrainian Economy Ministry (here).

This is the second year in three that Ukraine has imposed export restrictions. That can’t be doing much for its reputation as a reliable trader.

Flexi headers and soya

I have had a lot of interest from people asking how the flexi headers worked out on soya.

Soya can be low growing and it can be difficult to get the lowest pods with a rigid header. We hired in some combines with flexi headers and they worked very well not leaving any pods behind when compared to the wide conventional header.

I was impressed enough to consider investing in these for next year.
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Monday, 15 November 2010

Why I think lifting the moratorium on land sales is not necessarily a good idea

Read my full account in the Kyiv Post here.

Next week why I think beer is good for you.

They think it's all over...

...well it is now.

Finished harvesting soya at the weekend, all crops now either in the shed or already sold.

The government is suggesting the Ukrainian harvest is all but done, however my snoops are telling me otherwise. There are a few well known big agri-businesses still hammering away at substantial areas of maize and soya.

Forecast is still ok so I hope they don’t lose too much, it’s all about getting the balance right, too much in the ground and you don’t harvest it, too many combines and it costs too much, either way you lose money.

Friday, 12 November 2010

Crop Update

Still out and about and internet connection is a bit ropey hence the lack of blogs. I will be back at the weekend with some interesting pictures and if I get time a brief video.

In the meantime what I can report is that harvest is nearly finished, there will be very little left after this weekend and all the new crops I have seen are looking pretty darn good.

And I haven't been arrested yet, ha ha ha!

We are never happy

Daytime temperatures hit 20 degrees Celsius yesterday! It's hot, November and it's hot! Forecast is for a continuing settled period which is just the ticket so long as we don't get too much soft plant growth just before temperatures plummet which they will do anytime soon.

Farmers eh! Too hot, too cold, always whingeing. For some the glass is half full, for some it is half empty and for others it's cracked with stagnant water.

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Glorious weather

The weather is a balmy 16 degrees and if not actually summer then positively spring like. As each day like this go by the winter survival chances for each small plant increase, happy days.

I am away for a few days carrying our some field walking and crop assessments, hope to be back with pictures and a video by the weekend so tune back in later to see the current state on crops in Ukraine.

Hope we don’t get arrested by the law, it’s about time I had a run in with the feds. I fought the law and the law locked me up and took away my car and made me pay a fine. Let’s hope not eh.

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Shurely shome mishtake?

When the Institute for Agricultural Market Studies (IKAR), a Russian based consultancy business recently commented on the 2010/11 Russian grain balance they stated the figures should be treated with caution because “there is no reliable way of checking real grain stocks on farms and along the post-farming industries and in previous years farms were inclined to over-estimate production figures.”

I might be mishtaken but I think the same could be true of Ukraine statistics.

Is it true that 90% of statistics are made up on the spot?

Yes, but only 50% of the time.

The administration responsible for collecting state statistics asked for our yields. When we told them and that we haven’t completed harvest yet they asked if we could say we have finished and could we lie about the yields otherwise it will make them look bad and they would lose their jobs.

Stealing etiquette

The people who work on your farm will try and steal your grain, in some cases by as much as 20% of your output.

They are inherently better at it than your average thieving scouser and before any scousers email me to complain, dey do do dat dough don't dey dough.

In response you put in systems, procedures and technology to reduce the incidence of theft. Then the people who are stealing get angry that you’re not allowing them to steal at will.

Sorry guys, you have to devise even more ingenious ways of stealing, that’s how the game is played.

Weather

Not quite an Indian summer but mild weather persists much to the relief of many farmers with late germinating and slowly developing crops in the ground.

Day time temperatures in double figures with intermittent sun to help warm up the soil and above freezing night time temperatures.

I can understand Napoleon when he wrote home at this time of the year scoffing his advisors that the Russian winter was going to be a lot worse, "it's like spring time in Paris, I’m walking around in my shirt sleeves having a right laugh with the lads before we head off to conquer Moscow, send me some sun cream, LOL, Bony!"

Friday, 5 November 2010

Quote of the week

Kyiv police apologize for their unprofessionalism.

Kyiv police have issued an apology after attempting to detain head of the World Association of News and News Publishers Christoph Riess and Jan Wagner of the INMA organization.

Thursday, 4 November 2010

The unofficial ban was unofficial

It appears the glitch to sunseed trading that resulted in customs holding up shipment and prices going south as a result was indeed down to an over zealous Yuri or to be charitable a bottle neck at the port.

Prices have started to return to normal with latest quotes back to what they were previously i.e. north of 4,000UAH (308GBP).

Phew, we can breath again, at least until the rumour mill starts up again.

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Weathermen, pah!

What do they know, despite forecasting warm weather we are having a cool day today. No frost last night but this cool, misty weather isn't going to help further plant development.

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Sunflower prices

Have dropped to 3,500UAH (275GBP) from over 4,000UAH.

According to my sources, customs have stopped clearing sunflowers for shipment and this is having a knock on effect on the price as all trade has stopped.

This is not an official ban but then again the ban on cereal exports wasn't official for the first three months.

I have no idea if this is just a localised problem caused by an over zealous Yuri at the port or if he is being encouraged to implement blockages to slow down export.

Either way it's a big problem if it continues for much longer. Sunflowers performed well this year, about the only crop that could put up with the heat and drought and robust price will be crucial to many budgets.

We could all really do with out government interference on this one.

See what I mean...

...about the soil in the header, doesn't do it much good or the analysis. Perhaps we could market it as soil-ya!

Harvest update

Soya harvest is continuing slowly with yields disappointing but probably realistic as the shallow rooted crop suffered in the summer heat and drought.

Plants are low growing this year, combines are struggling to cut low enough without picking up soil and are leaving pods behind. Not much can be done although everyone reckons flexi headers will help. Can't see it myself, bit of a gimmick I reckon, anyone used them before? We have one on contract so we will see how it goes.

Weather

Overcast and dry. It feels cool but the temperatures are in to double figures so we should see some plant growth, albeit slow. Forecast is for sun and warm(ish) temperatures, it's the sun I want to see as that will warm up the black soil in the top horizon which will warm the roots and encourage further growth.

Monday, 1 November 2010

Election results

Yesterday was Election Day. Although it will take a few days to get the counts in exit polls are indicating that President Viktor Yanukovych’s Party of Regions are in a clear lead from Yulia Tymoshenko’s Fatherland Party.

Expect Yanukovych to say that it is a clear indication of the strength of the party blah blah blah, and Tymoshenko to cry foul that the elections were rigged etc etc.

If voting changed anything they'd abolish it.

Sunday, 31 October 2010

Agronomy Update, Russia

A brief look at winter wheat in Russia, below or here.

video

Are oilseed rape autumn fungicides worthwhile?

I think so. Even though signs of diseases like phoma and light leaf spot are low they will be in the crop and will weaken the plant making it more susceptible to winter kill. Applying an autumn fungicide does pay dividends in improved yield.

Tebuconazole or metconazole also improves the general toughness of the plants, the treated plants, below, are darker, greener, shorter and just meaner looking.

Phony winter?

The snow and associated cold weather I experienced in Russia last week failed to materialise in Ukraine, thankfully.

The forecast is for a reasonably warm week with daytime temperatures in double figures and plenty of sun to warm up the ground.

There's a lot of late sown and slow developing crops that will benefit from the extra growing opportunities before we head in to the winter for real.

Saturday, 30 October 2010

Back from Russia

Managed to sneak a photo of that sellotaped barrier I was on about.

Apologies for the quality of the picture but I thought it best not to make it too obvious what I was up to, the poor buggers would die of embarrassment.

Thursday, 28 October 2010

Border crossing

Over the years I have crossed or tried to cross many borders, the Uzbekistan Afghanistan one sticks out as a notable failure. Some border crossings are fun, some not, most are just a big pain in the ricker.  

Crossing the Ukraine Russian border the other day was reasonably straight forward despite having two passports and a dodgy visa (long story involving a passport and a washing machine).  

The most noteworthy observation of the thirty minute process was that the final barrier in to Russia had previously been broken in two, perhaps by some individual desperately trying to escape Ukraine.

That in itself wasn't particularly unusual but the fact that it had been repaired with sellotape was.  

I kid you not, the barrier was actually held together in the middle with reams and reams of sellotape.  


From Russia...

In Russia at the moment, two inches of snow fell overnight.

We could do with a late growing surge to get crops a little further ahead before winter fully arrives. Having said that the wheat I have seen here in Russia is looking mighty impressive, plenty of well developed, healthy looking plants.

Although having crossed the border and driven around for three or four hours I will have only seen a tiny fraction of the total crop area. 

Trying to assess crop condition on this scale is a bit like, well, assessing the condition of 30 million hectares of crops from a car. I wonder how the USDA do it?



Monday, 25 October 2010

Kiev visitors #2

Busy week for Kiev traffic cops, Vladimir Putin is expected in town on Wednesday for talks with his counterpart Mykola Azarov.

Not been hyped up much this visit, the official line is talks about economic cooperation but it could be seen as a clear signal ahead of local elections this coming Sunday.

No chance of getting run over by Vladimir Putin’s cavalcade as I will be out of the country on a brief state visit of my own to Russia.

Kiev visitors #1

The Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper nearly ran me over in his motorcade not ten minutes ago. He was in a cavalcade of blue flashing lights and blacked out Merc’s complete with little flags on the corners

I have a small but dedicated group of Canadian readers and much appreciated you are too (any jobs going in Canada yet?).

Younger Canadian readers might be a little concerned to hear that Ukraine and Canada have just signed a bilateral youth exchange programme, I think the idea is you get sent to Ukraine if you do something naughty.

Don’t worry though, you might like it here, you can get served booze at any age, I think beer is actually on the school curriculum.

Saturday, 23 October 2010

Juxtaposition of the week

Marks & Spencer and Karma Police.

I walked in to the Kiev branch of M&S earlier today to hear Karma Police by Radiohead being played.

Those of you who are oblivious to the delights of M&S clothes shop think middle age, matching jumpers, comfy shreddies* or in other words the antithesis of Radiohead.

“And for a minute there, I lost myself, I lost myself…daa da da da daaa…”

*Shreddies; slang for grits, grundies, undercrackers

I’m in hot water

Back in May I mentioned that my hot water had been turned off for two weeks. Well I lied; it has actually been off for the last 6 months!

After digging a big hole, filling it in, digging a massive hole, leaving it, scratching heads, installing some pipes and filling it in again, full service has been resumed.

The hot water is also the central heating system which means we have hot water and heating. Hurrah!

Now the fridge has packed up. Great!

Friday, 22 October 2010

Bada booom!

It’s being reported that three small bombs went off next to government buildings in Kirovograd last night, hours before a visit by President Viktor Yanukovich.

Parts of an artillery shell, a clock and a battery were found next to one of the buildings. A ministry statement said it regarded it as acts of hooliganism.

My idea of hooliganism is knocking on a few doors and pegging it or putting a traffic cone on the town statue. This sounds more like the business end of hooliganism.

Where did I put that number for the body armour supplier…

The weather...

...has picked up, drying out with blue skies and forecast for a settled period. It will take a day or two for the soya to dry out and we can get the combines moving again but we should then have a clear run for a week or so.

It is cool though, no sign of an Indian summer which would help the oilseed rape along. Day time temperatures are rising in to double figures but wind chill and diminishing light intensity are making it less favourable for plant growth.

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Is there a Green Zone in Ukraine?

Ukraine fell sharply in the latest press freedom index as produced by Reporters Without Borders and now ranks below Iraq.

Press censorship was cited as one of the reasons why Ukraine fell to an historical low.

No censorship on this blog I can assure you, all my own words, thoughts and invaluable insights absolutely buckshee. So now it’s official that I am risking my welfare by ignoring state censorship isn’t it about time you did the decent thing?

Wet and cool

Rain all over the place, harvesting and drilling stopped. We might just finish planting the last 100ha of wheat once it dries up in a day or two but I think that will be the end of sowing in Ukraine for this year.

I will dig out the planting figures and see how that compares with previous years.

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

It'll all be over by Christmas

We have finally finished harvesting sunflowers with 2.2MT off the combine. Prices continue to rise with the latest quotes from buyers now at 4,220UAH (338GBP).

Soya next!

Hope over reality

According to Leonid Kozachenko of the Ukrainian Agrarian Confederation, Ukraine could produce 105MMT of grain.

That’s “could” as in Liverpool "could" still finish in the top five. They could but it’s not going to happen, nope, not this year, no way.

There is about 42MHA of arable land in Ukraine with about half of it down to cereals. The average yield bumps along at around 2MT/HA which would give a national yield of 42MMT (last year it was 46MMT, this year looks like being 38.5MMT).

If Ukraine was to increase output to 105MMT and assuming a similar area of cereals was planted then the average yield would have to rise to 5MT/HA.

That’s an increase of 150%.

Even the best producers are struggling to get over four tons so I fail to see how Ukraine would ever achieve an average of 5MT/HA on 21MHA.

Monday, 18 October 2010

Planting news

I haven’t had time to analyse the figures in detail yet (still reeling from events on the pitch at the weekend – what was all that about?), but here are my impressions of plantings this autumn all the same.

Wheat
A lot of wheat has been planted late which will increase the risk of winter kill and what does make it through the winter will be lower yielding because it was planted late.

What has gone in is growing well and there are plenty of good looking crops around the regions.

Oilseed rape
Oilseed rape planting is reported at being 20% down on last year and many growers held off sowing until rain came which has resulted in 38kha being planted in the first week of October.

We finished planting by early September which I feel is the cut off point but as the soil was bone dry emergence was delayed to early October anyway.

This has resulted in small plants which will be at greater risk of winter kill resulting in a further reduction in the 2011 area. What is in the ground will probably yield less as it was late planted/emerged although rape does have better compensatory powers than wheat.

Too early to start predicting supplies for 2011 but if pushed I would say we are unlikely to see bumper cereal or rape yields next year.

How to spin yields

It’s that time of year when companies start publishing their performance results and yields feature highly as a performance figure.

While no one wants to dwell on bad news it is worth bearing in mind how we all spin yields to give a more favourable flavour to the story.

For example, you start off with 4,000ha of crop planted in the autumn.

Following a difficult winter and or summer you only have 3,280ha worth harvesting having lost 18% of your fields to hail/rain/fires/pestilence or whatever.

Once the combines have cut the crop and it passes across the dodgy soviet era weighbridge in to the shed you find you have 9,800MT.

9,400MT off 3,280ha is 2.87MT/ha.

Let’s call it 2.9 which is as near as damn it is 3 as makes no difference so let’s call it 3.

This year our crop yielded about 3MT/ha. Hurrah!

Except what you actually produced was 9,400MT of 4,000ha which is 2.35MT/ha. Even though you didn’t combine those hectares you did spend the money on them.

And this is what went in to store. When you bring it out of store, allow a conservative 10% for “shrinkage” plus a conservative 4% for “admix” what you actually sell is 8,122MT

So, 8,122MT of 4,000ha is 2.03MT/ha.

Or about 2MT/ha.

Sunday, 17 October 2010

Sunday footie

Talking of murky dealings, Liverpool FC finally ditched the dodgy duo and now has a new owner, let’s hope this is the start of a beautiful relationship.

As the Toffees prepare to host the Reds in this afternoon’s derby, I managed to take time out yesterday to watch another derby, this time in a village in Ukraine.

Teams were suitable attired in red and blue and I swear Shrek was playing centre forward.
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Ker-ching #2

I previously mentioned the governments directive that growers will have to supply some of their wheat to the government for “food security”. Here’s some figures on the subject.

We have been asked to supply 100MT of milling grade wheat for which we will be paid 1,300UAH per MT.

Current domestic market value is 1,500UAH per MT.

Loss to the grower = 20,000UAH or 1,500GBP or 2,500USD.

Sweet Lord!

This is an unsubstantiated rumour but the latest ruse I am hearing is that growers will have to plant 5% of their cropping area with sugar beet.

I suspect it will go the same way as most directives and will be roundly ignored but it does give you some flavour of what farming in Ukraine is up against.

Obviously no one will invest in the specialist planting and harvesting machinery required to grow sugar beet based solely on a government directive, thus giving the local administration the opportunity to fine you for not complying. Ker-ching!

Friday, 15 October 2010

Weather

Looks like we might have some rain over the weekend to slow down harvesting operations and probably put an end to the last of the winter wheat sowings.

I haven't checked the figures yet but my gut feeling is that wheat and oilseed rape plantings will be down this year. Watch out for all those spring planting over estimations as a result.

Sunflower prices

Continue to firm up with recent quotes from buyers coming in at 4,000UAH (314GBP).

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Someone has to be first

As far as I can tell a lawyer with the law firm Volkov and Partners is the first to publicly question the validity of Ukrainian grain export quotas.

“The only possible reason to introduce quotas may be for critical want of foodstuff in the exporting country, but the draft decree does not identify such critical deficiency prevention as the purpose for its adoption,” said Iryna Polovets.

This is what the WTO said to me back in September.

"...a member of the WTO can impose export prohibitions or restrictions on condition that they are temporarily applied to prevent or relieve critical shortages of foodstuffs or other products essential to that country."

So what constitutes a “critical shortage”?

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

A new boss at the zoo

Oleksiy Tolstoukhov will take the helm at the zoo from this Friday. .
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I don't imagine it will be a very arduous posting as there can’t many animals left to look after since the spate of mysterious deaths earlier this year.

Oleksiy 31, is the son of the Minister of Ukraine's Cabinet of Ministers.

Harvest update

Remaining cool and dry; sunflower harvesting on the final leg, we should finish by the weekend and then move on to soya.

Sunflower prices remaining firm at 3,800UAH (300GBP) with indications that it will continue to rise for some time to come.

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Weather & harvest update

Cool but dry. Localised light rain yesterday will continue to delay harvesting where it fell but elsewhere should be able to get going again later this morning.

Quote of the week #2

“Investors no longer believe fairytales about Ukrainian agriculture.”

Alex Lissitsa, president of the Ukrainian Agribusiness Club.

Absolutely Alex. However there are still plenty of people who do, personally I blame the rise of the spreadsheet.

“If we get four tons of wheat on ten fousand ‘ectares and flog it at hundred quid well make 4 million!”

Tappity tap tap tap (that's the sound of a key board as spurious figures are tapped in to a spreadsheet).

“Hang on a minute, if we get eight tons on one hundred fousand ‘ectares and sell it at one ‘undred and sixty quid we’ll be filthy rich! Ferraris all round!”

Full quote here.

Thinking of investing in Ukraine #2

Here’s a salutary story.

In central Ukraine there is a steel mill that was originally owned by the state.

Messrs Rinat Akhmetov and Viktor Pinchuk almost bought the mill for $800 million.

In 2005 President Viktor Yushchenko and Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko auctioned it off what was widely regarded as an open and honest transaction to the pan global steel company ArcelorMittal for the heady sum of $4.8 billion.

Today state prosecutors are claiming the new owners have not met their investment commitments.

Many observers believe this is the first steps in how the government will take the plant back and subsequently sell it off to favoured friends of the party.

Do not panic! Act normal and go away!

The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe is a primary instrument for early warning, conflict prevention, crisis management and post-conflict rehabilitation.

Should we be worried when we see the following advert in the local Kiev newspaper? Do they know something we don’t?

Monday, 11 October 2010

How many sunflowers are growing in Ukraine?

Now there is a conundrum.
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The ever interfering government has put restrictions in place that limit the frequency that growers can plant sunflowers to one year in seven.

Therefore growers have understandably lied about the amount of sunflowers they are growing to avoid prosecution and will continue to do so making any government statistics on the subject completely unreliable.

The seven year rule is not based on any scientific data but is an attempt to extort cash out of farm producers by fining them for breaking the rule.

Weather, harvest and drilling update

Cool and damp; combining of sunflowers stopped; drilling of late wheat slowing down where too wet; could do with a few days of warmth to get the oilseed rape and wheat in a more favourable condition for the winter.

Quote of the week

"I think 90 percent of Ukraine's police force is made up of honest people, who are just doing their jobs."

Anatoliy Mohyliov, Interior minister.

Sunday, 10 October 2010

Imagine that!

Multi millionaire John Lennon sang “Imagine no possessions” while sitting at his grand piano in his Hampshire mansion.

He also wrote “I am the walrus, goo goo g'joob g'goo goo g'joob.” What was all that about?

Happy birthday John.

Saturday, 9 October 2010

Harvest update

Some light rain overnight but combines running again this morning. Weather currently dry and cold but more rain on the way.

London wheat close yesterday

Feed wheat closed +6.2%; milling wheat 7.6%.

OK so the USDA report released around lunchtime yesterday did a lot to push prices north but the news from Ukraine would have certainly contributed.

So far this morning I have read very little comment on Ukraine export quotas. Is that because making official what has been widely accepted to have been going on anyway is not newsworthy?

Friday, 8 October 2010

London wheat 16:45

Feed wheat +4.9%; milling wheat +7.2%.

London wheat 15:45

Feed wheat +3.9%; milling wheat +7.1%.

London wheat 14:45

Feed wheat +7.4%; milling wheat +9.0%.

London wheat 14:00 hours

Feed wheat +4.9%; milling wheat +7.1%.

Agronomy Update

A quick look at sunflower harvesting below or here.

video

London wheat…

…up 0.5% and the market has only just opened. Let’s watch how the day pans out on the news from Ukraine.

The lunatics are on the grass

Mykola Riabchuk is one of Ukraine’s leading intellectuals and gives a very informed perspective on Ukrainian politics (here).

I particularly like the comparison of Ukrainian politics to a lunatic asylum, and Russian politics to a cemetery. “In the lunatic asylum, theoretically, you can be cured. In the cemetery, you can’t”.

Another example of how not to encourage private enterprise and business innovation?

Thousands of Kyiv kiosks to be removed, relocated or destroyed.

There are 10,843 permanent and temporary licensed kiosks in operation of which 806 have become illegal following a moratorium imposed by Kyiv City Council deputies.

Deputy head of Kyiv Administration Oleksandr Mazurchak said "this is why we are trying to solve the kiosk problem" noting that up to 1,300 kiosks would be removed, relocated or destroyed.

The local authority brings in a law that makes kiosks illegal unless they register presumably at a cost and if you don’t they will destroy your business.

I have lived and worked in Kyiv for years and I have never ever heard of the “kiosk problem”, “a lack of kiosk problem” perhaps.

Thursday, 7 October 2010

Good comedy is in the timing

As the Ukrainian government announce a ban on grain exports thereby restricting access to international markets, Viterra announce it is opening a marketing office in Ukraine to bolster its access to international markets.

That’s just flippin’ great that is!

Unofficial grain export quotas finally made official.

The long drawn out political spin has finally come to an end as the government officially imposes a ban on grain exports.

Deputy Prime Minister Andriy Klyuyev said that grain imports this year will be limited to 2MMT of corn, 0.5MMT of wheat and 0.5MMT of barley.

I defy anyone in the Ukrainian administration to justify why this is considered to be good governance.

Think this won’t affect you? Think again. The announcement which was made yesterday afternoon will only drive already high grain prices even higher as the panic sets in.

Watch the market over the next twenty four hours and wait for the empty words of righteous indignation from point scoring politicians and watch no one, I mean no one, not the IMF, the WTO, the EU, the US, no one do anything about it.

Great stuff lads!

The rules of business

Thinking of running a business in Ukraine? Then you might find it useful to run through this score card of attributes to see how you would stand up.

1. Would you describe yourself as tough?
a. As nails mate, you want some?
b. When I’m in my car.
c. No.

2. Do you have a heart, back or neck condition?
a. Nope, tough as nails me.
b. Only after a night on the lash.
c. All three plus haemorrhoids and a flaky scalp.

3. Can you consume heroic quantities of vodka and still calculate a ROI
a. You’re my besht new mate, hic, 15%!
b. I could work it out with a pencil.
c. White wine for me please.

4. Which statement best describes your principles?
a. Those are my principles and if you don’t like them, I have others.
b. A moral and business code to be adhered to as and when it is expedient.
c. A moral and business code to be adhered to at all times.

5. What are your thoughts on corruption?
a. Ha! Thatcher sold me my own council house!
b. Define corruption.
c. A despicable thing, there should be a law against it.

How did you score?
Mostly A - congratulations, you have a small chance your business will flourish, unfortunately you probably wont be the owner by then.

Mostly B - your business will survive approximately long enough to have all the assets stolen.

Mostly C – oh dear, stay at home, invest in premium bonds.

Cropping update

Weather cool but dry.
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Harvesting of sunflowers, maize and soya continues. The harvest is much further ahead than this time last year as the high summer temperatures caused many crops to senesce much earlier than normal.

As a result expect to see much lower yields particularly maize and soya; deep rooted sunflowers appear to have fared much better.

Sowing of winter wheat still progressing. Rain over most parts has gone some way to replenishing soil moisture which will help with germination and development.

Oilseed rape is variable. Crops which had some rain in early September are starting to look reasonable although smaller than you would like. Crops that missed the earlier rain are patchy and small. If we get a couple of good growing weeks then they might get big enough for the winter.

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Ukrainian needs $1 trillion investment

Prime Minister Mykola Azarov has said that Ukraine needs $1 trillion to modernize its economy within the next ten years.

It would help if the business environment was conducive to outside investors.

Update

Weather sunny and dry as forecasted; combines worked through the night. We should get a good run at harvesting and planting today.

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Customer service #1

Earlier today called in to a garage for some petrol and a map.

"Do you have any maps?" I politely enquired, looking around the shop at the vast array of vodka and cheap champagne.

"No" came the unequivocal answer.

"Well what the feck is that vast selection of fold out maps, road maps and city maps just behind your head numb nuts?"

Customer service #2

Took the opportunity of wet weather to go to the cinema at the weekend, big corporate multiplex of a place outside Kiev.

While waiting for the film to start decided to grab a coffee from one of the formulaic food retail outlets that populate these sort of places.

Ordered coffee then sat down about twenty yards away from the counter (it was a big multiplex of a place).

Two minutes later Yuri comes over to tell me my coffee was on the counter!

He made my coffee, placed it on the counter then walked the twenty yards to tell me my coffee was on the counter while actually pointing back at it!

Weather

Forecast is for a settled period which will allow harvesting to continue and wheat planting to grab another week or so.

This next ten days will make a big difference to overall wheat plantings. The recent rain followed by a forecasted settled warm (ish) period will allow these later planted crops a good chance to establish and become physiologically mature enough to withstand the winter.

I will stop drilling by the 15th of this month, any later and crops just lack vigour although you have to be very strong to stop when soil and weather conditions look fab as is often the case in mid October; that infamous winter is just around the corner.

Combines rolling

Sunflower moisture down to 9.5% so the combines underway earlier today. Yields so far of 2.3MT compared to the Ukraine average of 1.5MT; selling at respectable 3,800UAH (300GBP) with rumours of the price hitting 4,000UAH (317GBP).

Sunflowers are once again going to do a lot of growers a big favour this year.

Monday, 4 October 2010

The IMF

Not to be confused with the EMF. Unbelievable!

Mr. Dominique Strauss-Kahn, MD from the International Monetary Fund paid a visit last week and in his press release said that Ukraine faces many challenges to ensure sustainable growth and to improve living standards.

I really wish these guys would make the transcripts of their meetings public, surely they discuss more than just rhetoric.

You can read the press release in full here although the only interesting thing to make from it is the reference as to how the IMF support the government in implementing its economic programme and how the IMF looks forward to continuing to work closely with the government and people of Ukraine.

So it looks like the IMF are happy with the way things are for now and are unlikely to put any pressure on the government to improve its democratic processes any time soon.

Heating season in Kyiv starts Oct. 4

Deputy head of the Kyiv Administration Oleksandr Popov has announced the central heating will be turned on today.

Heating is usually turned on during the middle of October but as it is colder than usual for the time of year city authorities have graciously decided to fire up the boiler early.

My Dad would have never caved in so easy, “put another jumper on if your cold you pussy and turn the lights out while you at it.”

Schools and hospitals will be heated first. Radiators in residential buildings will start working later in the month.

Last Christmas I spent two weeks in hospital while they did their level best to bugger up an appendectomy. One appendix, three operations, seven holes and all with no central heating or hot water.

How I laugh now!

Thinking of investing in Ukraine?

The Government has just changed the constitution to give the President more power and the President commands a majority of loyal judges within the Constitutional Court.

There has been a de facto ban on wheat exports restricting access to lucrative foreign markets and depressing the local price as a result. This has been in direct violation of WTO rules who have done absolutely nothing about it.

The government is trying to “acquire” grain from farmers for food security. They are telling producers to provide the state with grain at 30% below market value.

The harsh winter and blistering summer depressed yields right across the country, it has been one of the most difficult cropping seasons I have ever experienced.

Having said all that the bullish rise in soft commodities has renewed interest from investors and the returns from farming are still there if managed correctly.

Oops I did it again!

One Friday the Government voted to overturn constitutional reforms passed in 2004 and return important powers to President Viktor Yanukovych.

Additionally the President now commands a majority of loyal judges within the Constitutional Court who will ratify anything the administration wants.

Is this all to keep hold of the power? The opposition think so and claim they are being intimidated, harassed and excluded from the airwaves.

Supporters suggest it is what is needed to push through the reforms needed to get the country pointing in the right direction.

Time will tell.