Glacier FarmMedia – Contrary to my pessimistic expectations, Ukrainian farmers somehow manage to survive. They harvest and sow winter crops, and some even buy new machinery.
Of course, for most farmers, things are not going very well but these people manage to adapt to the most difficult conditions of the war. In particular, I can say this about my current subject, Oleksandr Shevchuk, who cultivates 14,800 acres in central Ukraine.
Before the war, I regularly went to visit Oleksandr. I was interested not only in agronomy, which is highly developed on his farm, but also in its infrastructure solutions. I consider such farms to be the standard of development.
Before becoming a farmer, Oleksandr worked in the construction industry so he sees his main task as the creation of a powerful infrastructure base for agriculture. The farmer created his own construction team, which built a whole complex of facilities: granaries, hangars for equipment, warehouses for fertilizers and pesticides, a fuel station, housing for workers, a canteen and much more.
This approach allows him to achieve a number of benefits. For example, having your own warehouse allows you to buy mineral fertilizers when prices are low. The same applies to fuel, the supply of which is conveniently stored at your own base. Fuel can also be bought cheaper in large quantities, and provide a reserve during a shortage, as happened in April this year.
I had no doubt that Oleksandr and his team would steadfastly endure military hardships. Even in peacetime they did everything to be ready for possible problems.
However, the usually calm Oleksandr began our conversation rather irritably.
“Do you want to do an interview? I don’t know… I just refused to talk to European journalists. I’m sad. Damn it, I can’t understand why, when Ukraine is now giving away the most valuable thing – the lives of people – they give us so few weapons.… You read in the news: we were given (or will be given) two or three guns or 10 tanks. This is not the way to end this war, and it can go on for years.”
Oleksandr, like almost all Ukrainian farmers, did not even think of fleeing the war.
“For the first two days of the war, we sat in basements, but then we realized that something had to be done. I employ more than 150 people. I told them, neither I will go anywhere, nor my children, nor my grandchildren. We all stay and will work to win and to feed the people.”
Thanks to the reserves of resources accumulated before the war, the farm managed to carry out the spring sowing campaign more or less normally. However, he had to seek help from financial institutions.
“I managed to get 52 million hryvnias (US$1.3 million) in government loans. But it was not very easy because of the bureaucratic procedures. I had to endlessly bring various pieces of paper, and one day I said, ‘no more certificates! Either give us a loan or not.’ They gave it, anyway.”
Like other Ukrainian farmers, he still cannot sell a significant part of last year’s harvest, though the matter moved forward.
“I can even now sell grain in the neighbouring region for 6,000 hryvnias (US$150) [per tonne]. But this money will not even cover the cost of its cultivation and logistics. We managed to establish contacts with Romania. Although it is far to bring grain there, they pay 300 euros per tonne there. This is a normal price, although logistics eats up to a quarter of the money.”
According to Oleksandr, corn is the most unprofitable crop today because of the expensive drying and logistics. For the same money, it is much more profitable to transport a ton of rapeseed or soybeans.
“Yes, we will reduce the sowing of corn and increase the area under rapeseed. However, we will leave wheat in the same areas. Even if it is unprofitable, it is food, and people need bread. This is our contribution to victory.”
From the beginning of the war, Oleksandr’s company allocated money to support the army and refugees.
“We help with money, products and equipment. Right now, we are handing over a front loader to the army. In addition, thousands of refugees came from the southern and eastern regions of the country. They need somewhere to live, something to eat.
“We do everything we can. For example, a refugee family has been living in our dormitory for company employees for five months now. We settle some in the city, some in the nearby villages.”
It takes money to help people. Although today every Ukrainian farmer is trying to save somehow, Oleksandr sees no reason to change the technology of growing crops for the sake of minimal savings.
“We have experimented with no-till and minimal tillage before. These technologies are not suitable for our soils. The harvest is always less and seedlings are much weaker. Only deep plowing gives a good result. We are also reducing fertilizer application rates very moderately – only according to soil tests.”
In addition, he updates the agricultural machinery fleet as far as possible.
“Even before the war, we made an advance payment for a new tractor, so we were forced to buy it. With the new harvester, the situation was more complicated, because we paid half of its cost, but the seller could not bring it to us, and could not return the money.
“It seems that we were promised that in September the harvester will be delivered. We are also developing our construction business. Our brick factory produces products and is currently storing them. We have purchased a new excavator, loader and a 25-ton crane.”
The farmer understands it is necessary to develop new areas of production.
“I am now considering the task of producing bioethanol from corn. With today’s low cost of corn, this may be the right decision. We also dry grain using sunflower straw pellets, but today it is not very profitable, because one ton of pellets costs 8,000 hryvnias, and sunflower seeds 10,000 hryvnias.
“So here, too, you need to come up with something. And, of course, it makes sense to expand our pig farm. Today it allows you to earn good quick money.””
At the end of our conversation, Oleksandr recalled the old Ukrainian proverb: “Water does not flow under a lying stone.” That is, something can be achieved only by work. According to the farmer, every person should do their job with the highest quality. This will allow them to end the war with victory.
“When people tell me that it’s difficult for us, I say let’s go to the trenches to the front. That’s where it’s probably easy for everyone.”
– Ihor Pavliuk is an agricultural journalist based in the Ukraine.