Kornelius ‘Kees’ Huizinga is a Dutch transplant who has been farming in Ukraine since 2003, a country often referred to as the “bread basket of Europe“. Kees participated in the 2015 Global Farmer Roundtable – a milestone year as it was the 10th edition of the annual event.
Kees studied agriculture at Wageningen University in the Netherlands and worked in Poland and Russia prior to researhing farming possibilities in Ukraine and his current endeavour managing Kischenzi Ltd., which operates a patchwork of about 16,000 hectares of leased land with numerous landlords. That patchwork is a result of the collapse of the former Soviet Union. Farmland, which had been confiscated by the government, was returned in small parcels of a few hectares to people for them to farm or rent, but not sell.
The company employs about 350 employees and grows a wide range of crops, dairy and livestock that include winter wheat, winter barley, winter canola, corn, soybeans, sunflower, sugar beets, onions, carrots, cabbage and strawberries. Given the area can produce more than is needed there, access to markets is important and Kees shares some thoughts with us…
*English is a second language for most GFN members and responses may be lightly-edited for clarity.
Question: The dictionary defines trade as both a ‘noun’ and a ‘verb’ – both definitions describe the action of selling goods and services. How important is trade -and the ability to access markets- to your farming operation?
Answer: Probably important but we do not have a lot to say on the prices we get. We might be able to trade a few dollars per ton but that might not always be enough to cover the costs. But Ukraine produces much more than we need so access to free markets is important.
Question: When talking about trade, emphasis is often placed on the ability to sell products and services (exports). Trade also covers what we buy. How important it the ability to purchase goods and services for your farm (imports)? For example, what are some items that you purchase and/or import that are necessary for your farming operation to be profitable?
Answer: Really important otherwise we would not even have normal machinery, seeds, fertilizer and crop protection to work our fields and get decent yields.
Question: In your opinion, how important are trade agreements to your farm? To your community. To your country?
Answer: No idea of the details but I guess they are important and used for political and personal (oligarchy) reasons and last as long as they are convenient for [those] political and personal reasons.
Question: What type of infrastructure is needed to efficiently move products in and out of your farming operation?
Answer: All kinds of infrastructure: road, rail, ships, ports, inland silos, farm storage. Depending on the location and size of your farm you need a combination of these types of infrastructure and that can be different for every farm. Farmers should cooperate intensively here because it improves their power to negotiate with the big buyers and traders and is in the common interest of all farmers.
Question: We are talking a lot about tariffs and trade wars all around the world right now. Are there other barriers to trade (non-tariff barriers) that are impacting your farming operation that are of concern to you?
Answer: Stupid laws and lack of information.
Question: In one or two sentences, what message do you want to send your country’s trade negotiators / policy leaders regarding the importance and impact of trade access or barriers on your farming operation and the broader community?
Answer: Better farmers and adding value makes a better country. We all have to eat healthy and affordably.