The Russian invasion of Ukraine is leading to a dramatic decline in crops planted by the country’s farmers this spring, amid fears for national and international food security.
Known for its fertile soils, Ukraine is a major wheat exporterbarley, sunflower and maize, particularly in North Africa.
However, farmers and analysts have told The Guardian that planting, harvesting and exporting have been disrupted by lack of fertilizer, 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 likely to remain unsown. In addition, a third of the normal wheat crop from the crop sown last fall could be lost.
A small amount of stored wheat is reportedly exported by rail and road through Poland and Romania, but this is a “small fraction” of what is normally exported through the Black Sea ports of Odessa and Mykolaiv. before the invasion, analysts said.
Ukrainian officials have said that other export routes via the Danube River, railways and highways are restricted by inadequate facilities and, in the case of the railway, the difference in gauge and stock between Europe and Ukraine.
“I think we’re looking at potentially several months [after a cessation of the war] before export levels could return to normal,” said Mike Lee, who runs the Black Sea Crop Forecasts service. He said ships may have a hard time getting insurance coverage and permission to re-enter Black Sea ports, and mines also need to be cleared.
world grain prices rose to a new all-time high in February due to the interruption of exports. The World Food Program, the UN agency that provides emergency supplies to countries in conflict or experiencing natural disasters such as famine, said this week that the higher cost of food has meant that he is already cutting back on rations.
While most of Ukraine’s wheat is sown in the fall, other crops, including maize and sunflowers, are sown in the spring for the next few weeks.
Serhiy Ivaschuk operates a mixed agricultural and dairy 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 planting had slowed down this year because he had lost farm workers and vehicles to the Ukrainian army.
“Our own farm inputs are more or less sufficient for now and diesel stocks should be enough for planting. We may run out of seeds, fertilizers and crop protection products.
“Before the war started, we had made several prepayments for supplies from our lines of credit. However, the logistics and supply chains are now broken, so our suppliers cannot provide us with the inputs,” he said.
Ivaschuk said he had maize and wheat in storage ready to sell, but was unable to export them due to logistical restrictions on the use of the railway, as his crops were normally shipped 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 the Ukrainian Agrarian Council, which represents some 1,000 farmers across the country.
“In a few months there will be a new harvest, so where will we store it? Farmers also need money for fuel and fertilizer,” he said, adding that the price of diesel has doubled since the war began.
Ukraine gets most of its diesel supply from Belarus and RussiaDykun said, but now he was trying to find other sources from Europe.
The Agribusiness Club of Ukraine (UCAB), one of the country’s largest agricultural associations, said farmers facing shortages of fertilizers, seeds and plant protection products are likely to see lower yields.
It is estimated that about a third of the cultivated area normally used for spring crops may go unsown this year. The wheat crop planted last fall saw favorable weather over the winter, but about 40% of it is in regions with active hostilities.
Svetlana Lytvyn, an analyst at UCAB, said: “If we make a pessimistic assumption that it is not possible to harvest these crops, Ukrainian farmers will receive 19 million tons of grain instead of 32 million tons. [based on average recent yields] when they start harvesting in July”.
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 some wheat, but currently intended to plant “about two thirds of what was planned a month ago.”
“Cash flow and inputs are very tight right now, with suppliers requiring advance payment for supply compared to last season’s credit,” he said, adding that farms in the east are likely to be planting even less. due to further difficulties with logistics, military occupation and mined areas. .
In the north and east of Ukraine, many farmers had tanks, military machinery, and even missiles on their land. Some have described Russian soldiers occupying their farms. and take food and equipment.
“They are afraid to go to the fields,” Dykun said, adding that “it seems that [the Russian military] they want to destroy our agricultural industry.”
Sign up for the Farm Animals Monthly Update to get a roundup of the biggest food and agriculture stories from around the world and stay up to date with our research. You can send us your stories and thoughts at email@example.com