Thursday, 29 January 2015

Spring 2015 Ukraine and Russia Crop Tour

Last year I completed a 2,000km crop tour of Russia which was followed in real time on Twitter with many people telling me they found it useful.

This year I am planning a 4,000km, ten day crop tour through Ukraine and Russia to assess crops as they come out of the winter.

The aim is to achieve a clear picture of the condition and potential capability of overwintered crops as spring growth commences.

The provisional planned route will cover regions that make significant contributions towards the national yield and the export potential of both countries.

The tour team have plenty of in country experience and will give a clear, balanced and independent opinion on the condition and potential at a key stage of the production cycle.

We will use a number of techniques including;
  • crop transects;
  • score cards and overall crop scores;
  • samples of key yield indicators including plant population, green area index, growth stage, winterkill, pest and disease levels, abiotic issues;
  • visit barometer farms to investigate crop condition in more detail;
  •  interviews with current farm mangers and agronomists to council opinion on crop condition and the season ahead.

But we need sponsorship to make the project viable, can you help?

Contributors to the tour will receive an emailed end of tour report summarising all the information recorded including comments, opinion and observation with photographs and access to videos.

We are considering using a drone to get some aerial pictures if authorities allow and if safe to do so particularly around any areas of conflict.  If this is not possible we will use a Go Pro pole mounted camera to record useful images from an elevated perspective as well as intermediate and close up pictures.

We are considering a dedicated member only Twitter account that will provide an ongoing update and dialogue during the tour.

For all this valuable insight all we are asking is a minimum contribution of £75, €100 or $115 towards costs.

That’s a minimum contribution so feel free to pledge more.

At this stage all I am asking for is an indication of willingness to contribute with no commitment, if you think this would be useful to you and there is sufficient interest to cover costs then we will proceed to the next stage of planning and commitment.

Please register your interest or send any questions to me at or forward this page to a colleague who might be interested.


Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Latest USDA weather update for western FSU

Unseasonable warmth developed over western and southern portions of the region, while eastern-most crop areas remained cold and snow covered.

Across key wheat areas of Ukraine as well as western and southern Russia, warmer weather (3-7°C above normal) reduced the region’s protective snow cover but minimized the risk for freeze damage to dormant winter wheat.

In addition, daytime highs greater than 10°C across south western Russia reduced winter wheat cold hardiness and may have encouraged some early greening.

In contrast, near to below normal temperatures prevailed across central Russia, keeping dormant winter crops encased in snow.

Precipitation totalled 10 to locally more than 25 mm (liquid equivalent) across central and north western crop areas, with much of the precipitation falling as rain.

Friday, 23 January 2015

The weeks agri-news from Russia and Ukraine

Russia approved a draft law which prohibits the cultivation and breeding of genetically modified plants and animals, except for the use for scientific research and prohibits the import of GM products including feed and raw materials.

Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said Russia does not intend to bring GMO production into the domestic market and a senior official from the minister of agriculture provided a balanced view by saying we don’t want to poison our citizens.

The official position is they are trying to improve state regulation of genetic engineering although how this much this is influenced by the main owners of the $50 billion GM global seeds market being American is anyone’s guess.

Reports this week that EU pig meat exports to Russia could resume might be a little premature.

They stemmed from a meeting at the International Green Week in Berlin between the EU Commission, several European countries and the Russian veterinary authority Rosselkhoznado. 

With no trade issues to talk about what else were they going to discuss?

Russian government advised growers that state support would be withdrawn from producers who do not sell grain in an attempt to encourage trade during a period of low domestic prices.

Some of this low priced trade will be purchased by the state who created the current low prices by restricting exports.  Nice.

Bulgaria and Macedonia joined the growing list of countries along with the UK dairy group First Milk in blaming a large part of their agricultural problems on the Russian food embargo. 

Russia’s self-imposed food import ban has had an impact but has only been in place for five months while the root of many of the sectors financial issues can traced back years.

China are demanding Ukraine refund $3 billion for grain order placed in 2012 which was not delivered.

Ukraine said they won’t be able to supply the grain because they don’t have it citing a shortage of combiners, adjusters (?), mechanics and farm-machinery operators required to grow the crop as they are all now in the army.

There is more to this than a shortage of technical staff but it does highlight a problem with the availability of working age men for the planting campaign as they are conscripted or are in hiding trying to dodge conscription.

Ukraine Minister of Agriculture, Oleksiy Pavlenko, met with EU Ag Commissioner, Phil Hogan to discuss increased quotas for Ukrainian agricultural commodities and the possible their cancellation.  

It's unlikely this would happen any time soon but it would certainly fit with the EU Ukraine policy of support.  If quotas were cancelled that would make Ukraine grain very competitive in the EU market.

Don’t say I didn't warn you.

APK’s Rodion Rybchinskiy said statements on winter seedings condition in mid-January are speculative and it’s impossible to provide clear outlook until February. 

I agree except I would suggest March and probably the end of March is the earliest we can realistically get a good look at post-winter crop condition in most FSU regions.

So here's my mid-January statement; I'm hearing reports from parts of Russia with little snow cover of brown and dead wheat fields.

I wouldn't read too much in to it at this stage but it looks like we might see elevated levels of winter kill in exposed regions.

Thursday, 22 January 2015

Are supermarkets any good?

When I used to lecturer at an agricultural college many of my students would spend evenings, weekends and holidays doing farm work in order to secure extra beer tokens.

So it was noticeable that when a large Tesco’s opened nearby how many of them migrated to stacking shelves instead of getting dirty down on the farm.

When I asked them why, the answer was always the same; easy money.

It was physically easy, no one hassled them, they could come and go as the pleased, they didn't get wet, cold, filthy dirty and the pay was good.

The work was hardly satisfying and was never going to be a long term career option because it didn't involve tractors but it was very much in contrast to the jobs they had been used to doing so much that they thought it was an absolute breeze.

Now we all know that ag students are a breed apart and thrive in a working environment that would make lesser mortals run home to mummy in tears but even so does this mean that the big supermarkets are inefficient? 

I get the feeling that supermarkets set the bar quite low when expecting output from their shelf-stacker's and if this is the case does it permeate through the rest of the business.

Are farmers being penalised for inefficiencies in supermarkets?

Latest USDA weather update for western FSU

Near to above normal temperatures and precipitation maintained good conditions for dormant winter grains over much of the region.

From eastern Ukraine into central Russia, 50 to 70mm of precipitation (much of which fell as snow) improved soil moisture reserves in areas impacted by autumn drought.

In addition, crops were protected from bitter cold (-20°C or lower) at the end of December by a moderate to deep snowpack, reducing the risk for winterkill.

However, snow cover was shallow and patchy in north-central Ukraine, leaving crops exposed to the elements.

In addition, many of the wheat areas of central and northern Ukraine remained unfavourably dry, exacerbating soil moisture losses brought on by a drier than normal fall.

Latest USDA weather update for eastern FSU

During December, near to above normal temperatures and precipitation prevailed across much of the region.

Despite the somewhat warmer than normal conditions, Kazakhstan and Russia remained encased in a moderate to deep snowpack; agricultural activity in the spring wheat belt is minimal during the winter due to the extreme cold and deep snow cover.

In the south, where the harvest of cotton and other summer crops was completed during the autumn, agricultural activity was likewise relatively minor.

However, winter wheat in eastern Uzbekistan benefited from light to moderate rain and snow (10-30 mm liquid equivalent).

Thursday, 15 January 2015

Time for change?

The life of a jet setting international agriculturalist sounds like a glamorous gig and while it does have some upsides you often find yourself wishing things could just be a little more straightforward.

Moving house as projects dictate goes with the territory.  

Over the last seven years we moved on average about every 18 months until 2014 when we moved into five different homes across three countries over the course of eight months and we haven’t stopped.

At the moment we are overwintering in a beautiful farm house deep in the French countryside surrounded by the most perfect, vibrant green fields of wheat, enjoying the cuisine and sampling the reds, definitely very much an upside.

Being back in Europe we arranged for a year’s supply of post to be forwarded to us, in amongst the general guff and junk was a reminder that we needed to register our eldest for school this coming September.  

The problem is we have no idea which country we will be in by September so making a choice of four schools in order of preference was bit of a challenge.

After seven years on the move, producing two children in that time, dealing with decrepit hospitals, failing infrastructure, intransigent bureaucracy, none payment of invoices, pubs like the one pictured and enjoying the company of road police on a weekly basis then a steady safe routine starts to look a bit more attractive.


A look back at 2014 and a peek forward to 2015

Its’s that time of the year to look back at the previous twelve months and to take a peek forward at what the next twelve might bring.

Despite political events and losing big chunks of farmland to aggressive neighbours and locals with aspirations for separatism, Ukraine’s harvest was big.  

The weather was favourable with plenty of soil moisture in the spring and plenty of rain through the growing season.  Final figures for Ukraine’s H14 stands at 63mmt including 24mmt of wheat, 9mmt of barley and 28mmt of maize.

Russia’s weather was less favourable.  Drought was a problem from the outset and through the rest of the season although the final harvest wasn't too bad considering with agrarians bringing in 110mmt including 62mmt of wheat, 21mmt of barley and 11mt of maize.

To put that in context the UK had a blinder of a harvest with 25mmt including 17mmt of wheat and 7mmt of barley.

This year Russian wheat did around 2.5mt/ha and while Ukraine was better than it has been for some time at 4.0mt/ha it is still a long way off this year’s UK record 8.6mt/ha (or the ten year average 7.7mt/ha).

Yet it would be entirely possible to see a 20%, 30% or greater average yield increase within a few seasons through some fairly straightforward, simple and achievable changes to the production process.

This is more likely to occur in Ukraine than Russia primarily because in addition to the better climate (rainfall) EU and US funds have poured in albeit with conditions.  

Depending on your political point of view those conditions could be the long overdue catalyst that reboots Ukraine in to the agricultural power house it should be.

I can see a situation in Ukraine where the current crisis is stabilised and consequently and relatively quickly the business climate and corporate responsibility issues improve, corruption is contained and land tenure is sorted thus opening the door to a tenfold increase in inward agri-investments.  Maybe not all in 2015 but soon.

Without a doubt 2015 will be a difficult farming year in Ukraine as high inflation, foreign exchange and interest rates coupled with a lack of credit will make getting a crop in the ground this coming spring somewhat challenging.

But given support and sensible decisions from Ministry of Agrarian Policy and Food located on Kiev’s Khreshchatyk Street overlooking the site of last year’s demonstrations and shootings, then Ukraine agriculture might just start to step up.

Here’s to a happier new year.

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Latest USDA weather update for western FSU

Most winter crops remained adequately insulated from bitter cold by a moderate to deep snowpack.

Across eastern Ukraine and Russia, a moderate to deep snowpack (5-40 cm) protected dormant winter wheat from night time lows below -20°C.

However, wheat areas in northern Ukraine were under a shallow, patchy snow cover (2-5 cm), and were likely exposed to some burnback or possibly even winterkill.

Precipitation, which fell in the form of rain and snow, totalled 10 to 50 mm (liquid equivalent) in southern portions of the region, but was lighter (less than 10 mm) elsewhere.

Thursday, 8 January 2015

Latest USDA weather update for western FSU

Winter crops remained adequately insulated from bitter cold by a moderate to deep snow-pack.

Across Ukraine and central Russia, a fresh snowfall (10-35 mm liquid equivalent, snow depths of 5 to 30 cm, locally more) protected dormant winter wheat from temperatures up to 6°C below normal (night time lows below -20°C).

However, key southern wheat areas in southern Russia were spared the coldest conditions, with readings remaining above -15°C; these southern wheat areas are protected by a shallow, patchy snow cover.

Friday, 2 January 2015

Latest USDA weather update for western FSU

Warmer-than-normal weather continued throughout much of the region, alleviating the threat of freeze injury to dormant crops but also keeping southern portions of the region devoid of a seasonal snow cover.

Weekly temperatures were over 5°C above normal across the Ukraine and into southern Russia, with weekly temperatures in the remainder of the region between 1 and 4°C above normal.

In addition to keeping a large portion of the region snow free, the warmer-than-normal weather caused dormant crops to lose some cold hardiness, leaving crops at risk for winterkill or freeze damage.

Meanwhile, 10 to 20 mm of rain boosted moisture reserves in southern crop areas, with snow occurring in more northerly locations.