The world-important wheat crop of Ukraine is in danger

PERVOMAYSK, Ukraine – Grain produced by Ukraine is found everywhere. Most of the bread in the Middle East is made from it. Much of what aid organizations are distributing to prevent famine in Yemen is done with it. Much of what feeds Chinese animals, which in turn feeds people around the world, is made from this.

As the fierce war approaches its seventh week, Ukraine is on track to harvest most of its vast grain fields this summer – although there are growing fears that war-related supply shortages could cut production by a third. The country also stores 30 million tons of wheat.

“Last year was a record year for wheat yields for the whole country,” said Dmitry Hrushetsky, an industrial farmer with nearly 30,000 hectares of arable land near the central city of Uman, who also runs an agricultural data monitoring company in Ukraine, Russia and Russia. neighboring countries. “Ukraine is actually full of grain. Our reserves are full. “

“But now we can’t get grain,” he said, addressing a problem that could lead to a huge jump in grain prices and exacerbate world hunger, “which means Ukrainian farmers and the rest of the world are clothed.”

All Black Sea ports in Ukraine are closed to the world by the Russian blockade, which includes floating mines. A battleship sunk by the Ukrainian Navy to avoid capture is blocking access to granaries at the country’s largest port in Odessa. And after 20 years of investment in farm-to-port infrastructure, wheat exported by train makes up only a small fraction of what is exported by sea.

Without export earnings, Ukraine’s giant industrial agricultural economy is stalled, threatening farmers with bankruptcy and increasing the likelihood that the global grain market – and other food supplies dependent on it – will run into growing deficits even if the conflict is unlikely to end soon. .

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David Beasley, executive director of the United Nations World Food Program (WFP), told the UN Security Council that food prices were already rising rapidly. A third of the world’s population relies on wheat as a staple food. Anger over rising food prices has always been a major cause of civil unrest around the world.

The impact of the war on energy and fertilizer supplies is already extending to agricultural supply chains, raising commodity prices for almost everyone on the planet.

Countries such as Egypt – the largest importer of Ukrainian wheat last year, as well as Lebanon, Pakistan and others, get most of their wheat from Ukraine. The country produces about one-fifth of the world’s high-quality wheat and 7 percent of all wheat. WFP buys half of its grain in Ukraine.

Hrushatsky has more than $ 2 million in wheat storage, and like other farmers across the country, he worried that without being able to sell any of it, he would not be able to pay workers, buy seeds, fuel and fertilizers, support equipment or pay outstanding bills, jeopardizing the future of your company.

The trader with whom he cooperates in the port of Odessa, Alexander Chumak, clearly stated the unrest of the industry.

“There is nothing else but to give grain to the army or as humanitarian aid. Fortunately, Ukraine will not go on hunger strike, ”he said. “But when we talk about global food security, it is already a fragile system. Climate change, chaos in supply chains, and now this war – in six months the poor will die of hunger. I don’t think the world understands that yet. For their own sake, the movement of food across the Black Sea must be negotiated.

For Ukrainian farmers, however, there are more immediate problems.

On the first morning of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, it took only two hours to occupy 55 square miles of Vladimir Khvostov’s industrial farms, which grow wheat, canola, sunflower and dairy cattle in the country’s most productive region, between the Crimean peninsula and the southern city of Kherson.

Since the beginning of the war, Ukraine’s most productive agricultural regions have come under Russian control.

As a result of the fighting, the main canals, which irrigate millions of hectares, were damaged.

Diesel fuel refueling tractors and other equipment is becoming increasingly inaccessible across the country, either because it was once obtained from Russia or because Russia has bombed local fuel depots.

Key points in the agricultural calendar – fertilizing, tillage and, soon, planting – are over until farmers have difficulty getting the supplies they need and others have left to fight. Farm workers are exempt from conscription, but many went to work out of a sense of duty.

“We are still planning to harvest, even if it is difficult,” Khvostov said. “But if we don’t defeat the Russians by then, it won’t matter to the rest of the world.”

Representatives of Ukrainian agriculture have expressed concern that, while their country’s army seems to be holding back Russia’s army from achieving its most ambitious goals, Russia could win the long war against Ukraine by damaging its agricultural economy.

Recent updates of the war in Ukraine

The collapse of industrial agriculture would be catastrophic for Ukraine in almost every respect imaginable. And because Russia is also one of the world’s largest grain producers, it will win exactly where Ukraine loses.

“This is a secret weapon in the war,” said Andrei Dykun, chairman of the Ukrainian Agrarian Council. “Make Ukraine bankrupt. Make the world buy in Russia. Of course, the world will buy from them, not starve. “

Russia has already lowered wheat prices to make its products more attractive on the world market, although it has also threatened to limit agricultural exports to countries it considers hostile to its invasion of Ukraine. Russian food exports have not yet come under Western sanctions, and some of the United States’ largest agribusinesses, including Cargill, continue to operate in Russia..

“American and German companies are still operating in Russia, so as long as the United States imposes sanctions on Russia, they are financing them at the same time,” Dikun said. “The West will make us die so slowly.”

Due to the fact that agriculture is an integral part of Ukraine’s economy, their fellow citizens poured on farmers, and their role was considered almost as important as the military. And many farmers considered it their duty to gather as much grain as possible not only for their country but also for the whole world.

“It’s half a joke, but maybe the West should give us armored tractors,” said Bogdan Lukiyanchuk, a farmer, agronomist and host of Growex, YouTube’s channel for Ukrainian farmers.

Lukiyanchuk was photographed with an automatic rifle at a rally in his house on the outskirts of Pervomaisk, north of the city of Mykolaiv, which has come under intense Russian shelling in recent weeks.

“I’m sleeping with a friend. Just in case, I take another one with me to the field, ”he said. “We need to keep as much of our land under control as possible. This struggle is not only for Ukraine, but for everyone. “

Sergei Morgunov contributed to this report.

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