Global food prices fear as Ukrainian farmers forced to cut plantings | Ukraine

The Russian invasion of Ukraine is leading to a dramatic drop in crops planted by the country’s farmers this spring, amid fears for domestic and international food security.

Known for its fertile soils, Ukraine is a major exporter of wheat, barley, sunflower and maize, particularly to North Africa.

However, farmers and analysts told the Guardian that planting, harvesting and exporting have all been disrupted by a lack of fertiliser, low or no fuel supplies for tractors, port closures and the military activity.

At least a third of the land normally used for spring crops such as corn and sunflowers is unlikely to be planted. In addition, a third of the normal wheat crop from the crop planted last fall could be lost.

A small amount of stored wheat would be exported by rail and road via Poland and Romania, but this is a “tiny fraction” of what is normally exported via the Black Sea ports of Odessa and Romania. Mykolaiv before the invasion, analysts said.

Ukrainian officials said other export routes via the Danube, railways and road are limited by inadequate facilities and, in the case of railways, the difference in track width and stock between Europe and Ukraine.

Analysts say only a “tiny fraction” of the wheat normally exported via Odessa and Mykolaiv leaves the country. Photography: Vincent Mundy/Bloomberg/Getty Images

“I think we’re looking at potentially several months [after a cessation of the war] before export levels can return to normal,” said Mike Lee, who runs the Black Sea Crop Forecasts service. He said ships could struggle to get insurance cover and clearance to re-enter Black Sea ports, as mines also need to be cleared.

World grain prices hit a new all-time high in February due to the disruption in exports. The World Food Programme, the UN agency that provides emergency supplies to countries in conflict or experiencing natural disasters such as famines, said this week that the rising cost of food already means that she reduced the rations.

While most Ukrainian wheat is sown in autumn, other crops, including corn and sunflower, are sown in spring over the next few weeks.

Serhiy Ivaschuk operates a mixed dairy and arable farm with just under 7,000 hectares (17,300 acres) in western Ukraine in the Khmelnytskyi region, 350 km southwest of kyiv. He said there were no hostilities in his area, but sowing had been slowed down this year as he had lost workers and agricultural vehicles to the Ukrainian army.

“Our own agricultural inputs are more or less sufficient for now and diesel stocks should be sufficient for sowing. We risk running out of seeds, fertilizers and phytosanitary products.

“Before the war started, we had made several prepayments for supplies from our lines of credit. However, logistics and supply chains are now interrupted, so our suppliers cannot supply us with inputs,” he said.

Ivaschuk said he had maize and wheat in stock ready to sell, but was unable to export it due to logistical restrictions on using the railroad as his crops were normally sent across the Polish border by rail.

Restrictions on the sale of stored wheat are not just a threat to global food security, said Andrii Dykun, chairman of Ukraine’s Agricultural Council, which represents about 1,000 farmers across the country.

“In a few months there will be a new harvest, so where are we going to store it? Farmers also need money for fuel and fertilizer,” he said, adding that the price of diesel had doubled since the start of the war.


Ukraine gets most of its diesel supplies from Belarus and Russia, Dykun said, but was now trying to find other sources in Europe.

The Ukrainian Agribusiness Club (UCAB), one of the country’s largest agricultural associations, said farmers facing shortages of fertilizers, seeds and crop protection products risked lower yields.

He estimates that about a third of the area normally used for spring crops could remain unsown this year. The wheat crop sown last fall had favorable weather conditions over the winter, but about 40% of it is in areas where hostilities are active.

Svetlana Lytvyn, UCAB analyst, said: “If we make the pessimistic assumption that it is not possible to harvest these crops, Ukrainian farmers will receive 19 million tonnes of grain instead of 32 million tonnes . [based on average recent yields] when they start harvesting in July.

Sugar beet seeds, March 2022 in Humnyska, Ukraine.  Russia's invasion of Ukraine delayed seed deliveries and created shortages of fuel, fertilizer and other supplies.
Sugar beet seeds, March 2022 in Humnyska, Ukraine. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine delayed seed deliveries and created shortages of fuel, fertilizer and other supplies. Photography: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

In western Ukraine, another farmer who co-manages a 2,000-hectare (4,940-acre) farm near the city of Lviv, said he had started planting peas and wheat, but they currently intended to sow “about two-thirds of what we planned a month ago”.

“Cash flow and inputs are very tight right now with suppliers demanding prepayment for supply versus credit last season,” he said, adding farms in the east would likely plant even less. due to more logistical difficulties, military occupation and mined areas. .

In northern and eastern Ukraine, many farmers had tanks, military machines and even missiles on their land. Some described Russian soldiers occupying their farms and taking away food and equipment.

“They are afraid to go to the fields,” Dykun said, adding that “it looks like they [the Russian military] want to destroy our agricultural industry.

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