Ukraine Update: Ordinary Farming Challenges in a Most Abnormal Year


The top exporters of Ukrainian wheat today are the Russians.

That’s because they’ve stolen hundreds of thousands of tons of it from my fellow farmers. Now they’re attempting to sell it as their own, for about $100 million, according to the New York Times.

The importers are mainly countries in Africa and Asia that are suffering from extreme drought and with increasingly hungry and vulnerable populations. In most cases they know what they’re buying but find themselves caught in a difficult situation as they struggle to access food and cooking oil for their populations.

Count it as one more injustice in Vladimir Putin’s cruel war of conquest.

So far, the thieves have stayed away from my farm. The Ukrainian army has stopped their advances west, to the surprise of many in the West. Most of the Russian plundering has involved raids on storage elevators in the southern part of the country, which now faces the brunt of Moscow’s assault.

On my farm in the middle of Ukraine, we’re preparing for a normal harvest, in what has turned out to be the most abnormal year in my life as a farmer. In response to the war, we altered some of our planting decisions, choosing to rely less on sugar beets and corn and more on soybeans, spring wheat, and spring barley. They require fewer inputs to flourish.

We faced the ordinary challenges of farming this spring. Cold and wet weather forced us to replant hundreds of acres of some crops. We dug shallow tillage on a few fields to reduce moisture in the soil. We made other adaptations as well, but they had nothing to do with Russia’s attack.

The war has changed just about everything else. Lots of acres remain unplanted and lie fallow. Fertilizer and crop-protection tools are scarce and expensive. Although our farm had much of what we needed in stock, other farmers aren’t so fortunate. I’m guessing that for many of them, yields will fall by as much as 40 percent because they have lacked access to the ordinary tools of crop production.

 Access to fuel is a constant struggle. We’ve managed to buy some, but we don’t yet have enough to get us through the season. It’s expensive and will become even more so as we approach harvest. One of my neighbors had to halt his planting for ten days because he couldn’t buy diesel. Another is adding 50-percent sunflower oil to his fuel, which he can do because his old tractors can take it. Yet this obviously is not ideal—a desperate measure in desperate times.

The cost of fertilizer also is soaring. We’re buying a lot of chicken manure. We’re also using manure from our dairy operation. In time, however, the inability to acquire nitrogen fertilizer could become a crisis for farmers in Ukraine.

Our biggest problem today is that we can’t export what we grow.

Normally we ship our wheat and other agricultural products from the ports on the Black Sea. These are now closed, due to a Russian naval blockade. More than 20 million tons of grain are stranded in Odessa and other storages in Ukraine.  So are other important Ukrainian commodities, such as sunflower oil. Their absence from global markets has caused food prices everywhere to surge.

“Failure to open the ports in Ukraine will be a declaration of war on global food security, resulting in famine, destabilization of nations, as well as mass migration by necessity,” warned David Beasley, head of the UN’s World Food Program. “It is absolutely essential that we allow these ports to open because this is not just about Ukraine; this is about the poorest of the poor around the world who are on the brink of starvation.”

An alternative to the ports is to transport our crops by land, for export from Poland and Romania. Moving grain across borders by train and truck presents enormous logistical difficulties. Poland produces 30 million tons of grains and Romania 25 million tons. Ukraine normally exports around 60 million tons. If you theoretically split this 50/50 to be exported through Poland and Romania, these two countries have to handle double the amount they normally produce. We may find that even after we’ve delivered our commodities to them, they still have nowhere to go.

There’s only one real solution to our troubles: This horrible war must end.

Global Farmer Network member Kees Huizinga and his wife Emmeke Vierhout have joined forces with The Leeuw Kyiv Foundation to provide a lifeline to all corners of Ukraine—every day, trucks with relief goods go from the Netherlands deep into Ukraine. Where others cannot go…Will you help? Click here to support The Leeuw Kyiv Foundation which is now fully committed to humanitarian aid. Originally founded in 2006 by the Dutch community in Kyiv for the education of Dutch language and culture,the Foundation now collects and distributes aid to those who need it in Ukraine.

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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