Abiding by Nature’s Rules in Ukraine


When the Russians invaded my country a year ago, we stopped building and started defending.

Now we’re building again, as we try to produce the food that Ukraine and the rest of the world needs—even as our war of self-defense rages on.

In the winter of 2021-2022, we were putting up an additional barn for our dairy cows. Then came the attack of the Russians, which I knew was always possible but did not fully expect. Their aggression forced us to put it on hold.

Instead of improving our farm with a new structure, we used our construction materials and machinery to block the roads, improve the defense lines and dig trenches. We’re in the central part of the country, and not especially close to the border, but we didn’t know how far the Russian tanks and troops would thrust their way into the Ukrainian heartland.

Our immediate goal was to slow them down. As the old adage reminds us, desperate times call for desperate measures.

The good news is that the Russians never penetrated this far. The heroic soldiers and citizens of Ukraine held fast. Although we have not yet chased the Russians out of Ukraine, we’ve halted their advances and recovered some of the territory that they initially stole.

Ukraine’s strength and determination in the face of Russia’s war machine shocked the world. Today we have the support of many Western democracies as we strive to maintain our national freedom and sovereignty.

And on my farm, we’re building again. The barn for our dairy cows is just one example.

We never stopped farming in 2022. For all the uncertainties that surrounded our situation, we knew that we had to plant our seeds in the spring, feed and protect our crops in the summer, and harvest our fields as fall approached.

Nature doesn’t cease. It doesn’t take a vacation. It’s always there, with the steadiness of days and nights as well as the variability of weather and water.

As farmers, we live and move by its rhythms.

Despite not knowing last year if we’d have enough fertilizer and fuel to get through the growing season, we took a chance, worked hard, and managed to produce something rather than nothing.

We’ve sold much of our wheat through the UN-negotiated pact of the Black Sea Grain Initiative, which allows Ukraine to export food to Turkey, Spain, Italy, China, Egypt, and other nations. The agreement is flawed: It doesn’t let us sell as much as we could, and the Russians have demanded useless and inefficient inspections in Istanbul. We need the war to end and peacetime trade to resume.

Amid the turmoil, nature never ceased for our dairy cows.

Every single day, they must be milked. The cows also require shelter. Moreover, to maintain and grow the herd, we have to inseminate them and automatically the herd will grow.

These are nature’s rules. Arguing with them is pointless. Yet abiding by them is a choice.

During the war, we couldn’t sell our cows as there were no buyers. Eventually, we had to confront our original need—and so in a time of wartime destruction, we built a barn.

I’ve always worried that although 2022 was bad, 2023 could be much worse. The fertilizer traders that I know are selling only half of their normal stock. With Ukrainian farmers cutting back due to prices and shortages, fields will be less fruitful. Feed-grade wheat production could drop to as little as 12 million tons, versus the normal supply of 20 million tons.

This will affect food prices not just in my country, but everywhere. The war will continue to distort markets and threaten food security in surprising ways. Last year, for example, consumers in Nigeria suffered as the price of yams skyrocketed—and much of this harmful inflation was a repercussion of Russia’s war of conquest.

I’ve always known that in the face of changing circumstances, farmers are strong, creative, and adaptable. Last year, Ukrainian farmers proved their resilience as they defended our country.

We can handle the ordinary challenges of farming. The ruin of war is another matter, but here in Ukraine, we’ll keep growing and building as best we can.

Kornelis Kees Huizinga

Kornelis Kees Huizinga

Kornelis 'Kees' Huizinga has farmed in central Ukraine for 20 years, growing onions, carrots, wheat, barley, canola, sugar beet, corn, sunflowers and navy beans. They also have a modern dairy farm. Kees is a member of the Global Farmer Network.  In 2022, Kees received the GFN Kleckner Global Farm Leader Award.

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