Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Oilseed rape continues to grow

Roots developing nicely, leaves disease free, patchy emergence, generally OK.

I have several reports from Ukraine and Russia of very patchy emergence with crops that will need replanting with something else in the spring. 

I put this down to localised showers over the last month, or more accurately no localised showers resulting in dry seed failing to germinate or emerge late.

What I have seen is in good condition; minor grazing and a few mealy cabbage aphids but nothing significant and low disease pressure with healthy looking plants. 

There is a question mark on some of the later emerged crops as to wether they will put on sufficient growth ahead of the winter but time will tell.

Maize rallies

The price moved up a tad on the back of the PM (finally) ratifying the cancellation of export duties. 

Maize currently trading at just over 1,400UAH (125EUR) with a feeling that we might see more to come as exports pull the price north. 

Harvest going well with good weather conditions helping things along.

Tuesday, 18 October 2011


Maize harvest is progressing nicely with moisture around 25% and the settled period forecast for next week will continue to help things along. 

The price has dropped recently as you would expect at harvest and with talk of a bumper crop in Ukraine and elsewhere I don't see this changing much in the short term. 

Frosty morning

Ice on the car this morning, chilly but sunny, one of those days when it's a pleasure to out walking across fields of wheat and rape.

Oilseed rape does surprisingly well in the Ukraine climate.  Many observers suggested it would not be able to survive the winter but it seems to do OK most years.

Having said that the last really strong winter was 2003/04 so we must be overdue for another one some time soon.

Monday, 17 October 2011

Winter arrived

The seasons in Ukraine go something like summer, summer, summer, autumn, winter, winter, winter, spring, summer.

Winter arrived at the weekend with sleet and snow flurries and temperatures just in to the positive.

Not a bad thing as it will encourage plants to harden off ahead of the real winter and slow down a few pests; namely aphids and sawfly.

Temperatures are forecast to increase over the week which will be welcomed by late emerged oilseed rape and late sown wheat.

Friday, 14 October 2011

Pick 'n' mix metaphors

Plenty of comments on the Tymoshenko case, I particularly like this one from John C.K. Daly of Oilprice.com:

“…some democratic lipstick whitewash will need to be applied to the Ukrainian judicial pig in an attempt to convert it into a judicial silk purse…”

Decisive government in action

After creating a grain embargo for the best part of the year then implementing widely criticised export duties, then suggesting they would cancel them, then not cancelling them, then saying they will stay the Ministry of Agriculture finally dropped grain export duties…but not on barley.

Can anyone spot the agenda?

Thursday, 13 October 2011

The people have spoken

Well 339 people have via a Kyiv Post online poll and the majority are in favour of Yulia Tymoshenko doing porridge.

To keep it in to perspective and to remind ourselves why polls are inherently dubious at best; that’s 252 people.

Four people thought seven years was not harsh enough.  Remember Nick Leeson?  He only got 6½ years* and he cost Bearings Bank $1.4 billion!

*He eventually did 3½ years but it was in Singapore

Wheat and oilseed rape

Dry weather during August and September meant plantings progressed unabated but emergence has been slow.

Recent rains will help wheat but probably too late for some of the more backward oilseed rape crops.

Early maize harvest results

Picking up on maize yields from around the regions and they are good.

I hesitate to put an a figure on it as I don’t want to be the one responsible for a bear market and there is still a lot of maize waiting to be cut and the weather forecast isn’t brilliant and the government still has time to cock it up and this is farming.

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Progress is now behind you

Ukraine is back in the spotlight this week for all the wrong reasons with the jailing of Yulia Tymoshenko.

For those of you that don’t know, she was leader of the opposition who has just been locked up for seven years for gas deals she presided over when she was in power.

The US said they are deeply disappointed, the EU said they are deeply disappointed, Russia said they are deeply disappointed, the UK is deeply concerned, Canada is troubled, Czech has condemned the outcome, Italy expressed dissapointment, NATO is dissapointed and I’m sure many others will continue to express the depths of their feelings to varying degrees.

Not half as disappointed as Tymoshenko I suspect.

I further suspect that Yanukovych will appear to bow to international pressure and magnanimously release her after a short period but maintain her criminal conviction thereby making her ineligible to hold office and effectively removing any threat to power for the next ten years.

Deeply disappointing indeed.


A three year high of plantings and production has done nothing to put growers off planting with the parts of Ukraine this year literally wall to wall sunflowers.
The price has taken a bit of a tumble in recent weeks with the domestic market dropping 20 to 30%.

Is this a long term trend as a result of oversupply or a temporary blip as crushers are now at capacity?

Saturday, 17 September 2011

Aren't sunflowers brilliant?

Early harvest results coming in for sunflowers and they are good.

My contacts from around the regions are reporting first fields cut at 2.5MT/HA off the combine so probably nearer 2.0MT/HA when dried, cleaned and Yuri has expropriated his share. 

Still possible to make money at that. 

Price is currently 4,000UAH/MT (360EUR/MT) with direct growing costs of around 1,800UAH/HA (160EUR/HA) means a gross margin of 6,200UAH/HA (560EUR/HA).

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Caught by the fuzz!

Do you remember the Thames Valley coppers sledging down a hill on their riot shields last year?  They got a bit of a rollicking for that I seem to remember.
Well here's a couple of Kiev's finest spotted earlier this week making an absolute meal of trying to knock apples out of a tree while on duty and carrying side arms. 

Watch out for the fat one looking around suspiciously as he trousers an apple.


Another poll from the ministry of "Stating the bleedin' obvious"

OK so not a ministry but a toothless quango has just produced results from a poll that suggest over half of Ukrainians distrusts authority.

The majority said they are not satisfied with the political situation (70%), the economic situation (87%), or the foreign policy (46%).

Among the country's most serious problems, those polled named the police (100%), inflation (74%), poverty (54%), unemployment (53%), corruption (49%), general economic problems (32%), political instability (20%) and external debt (11%).

Corruption only 49% eh?  Something fishy going on there.

ps I made the police one up.

Sunday, 11 September 2011

Maize harvest

Maize yields bounce about with a 40% difference in yields for the larger agri-businesses last year.

There are a lot of predictions about for a bumper harvest this year and some companies will be counting on it. 

I am a little more reserved.

Planting time was very dry and crops struggled to get established with many plants emerging late and having a pretty hard time of it. 

Rain in June allowed crops to put on a massive growth spurt and they shot for the sky producing a lot of biomass and very impressive looking crops. 

On closer inspection a lot of these impressive 3m tall crops have produced one cob with a low numbers of small grains.

Time will tell but I wouldn't bet my house on it just yet.

Sunflower harvest

Has started in the south and east and is imminent elsewhere.

Sunflower is a fairly robust crop and I expect yields to be consistent once results start coming in.

Last year there was only a 5% yield difference amongst the larger agri-businesses.

As you would expect at the start of harvest prices dipped to a low of 3,500UAH/MT but lifted slightly this week to 4,000UAH/MT.

Winter oilseed rape plantings

WOSR should be in the ground by now, any later and plants struggle to develop sufficiently large enough to cope with the winter.

Rather worryingly for the Ministry of Agriculture, they claim only 77% of "the target" has been planted. 

Less worryingly for everyone else, the Ministry target of 950,000ha planted is a work of fiction and most sensible growers will have completed plantings by now.

Saturday, 10 September 2011

We've got the builders in!

No, not a euphemism, we really do have the builders in. 

We have just moved from a hugely congested and ever so slightly radioactive Kiev to a much fresher and all round brand new apartment in Lviv. 

First night woke up to a massive flood in the kitchen; second night Noah from down stairs was at the door bleating on about a flood.

Today the builders have arrived and are currently dismantling the bidet (I thought it was a drinking fountain!) and destroying the newly minted bathroom searching for the source of the flood.

My mate Richard from the US, with some considerable experience of this part of the world once said to me that "seemingly Ukrainians can't even put two pipes together without them leaking." 

Prophetic words indeed Richard.

Friday, 19 August 2011

Maize oddity

We are seeing multiple ear syndrome were multiple cobs form at the same nodes as in the picture, right.

The cause is thought to be related to shock at early formation caused by cold weather and genetic with some varieties displaying more of a predisposition to the abnormality.

Anyone experienced this before?

I went on holiday

Sitting on a Wizz Air flight last week when the lady in front decided that it was time to reduce what little leg room I had even further. 

I wouldn't have minded if she was sleeping but no, she wanted to lie back and relax while reading her book. 

Meanwhile I had 10cm in which to entertain a 6 month old baby. 

Also I had to bribe passport control 60 quid to let us out of the country. 

Here's a free tip for those looking to visit Ukraine in the near future; do not under any circumstances fly in to or out of the city airport, it is staffed by professional thieves and vagabonds.

94% of statistics are made up on the spot

Agricultural Policy and Food Minister Mykola Prysiazhniuk has said that the grain harvest is all but over with 94% of crops threshed.

Mykola should get out of Kiev more often.

I have spent the last few days driving all over Ukraine and combines are still very much in abundance.

Monday, 25 July 2011

How long will it take to load?

Ever bought grain from Ukraine and wondered why it took so long for it to be delivered? 

This picture might go some way to answering that question.

This is fairly typical and goes someway to illustrate the not insignificant investment required to bring the industry up to speed.

Harvest update

Harvest is a bit stop start with the odd shower slowing things down but not to the point that we would call it a wash out. Not yet anyway.

Reported yields are variable but seem on the upper side so we might see a half decent crop this year and the price is not looking too shabby either.

What effect the newly imposed export tax has we will have to wait and see but Black Sea grain is currently priced keenly or is that just all the spare old grain they have suddenly found in Russia?

Are they watching me?

My blog is essentially me wittering on about farming in Ukraine and other stuff that gets my goat. 

Every now and then I get sneaky feeling that I'm being watched and wonder if they authorities take the same tongue in cheek view of my opinion as I do. 

This boat has been parked outside my house for three days now.  Do you think they are watching me?

Monday, 18 July 2011

Harvest roundup

My contacts from around the regions are telling me that winter wheat is starting to come off at:

Central - 3.0MT/HA
SE - 3.0MT/HA
SSE - 2.8 MT/HA
Central West 5.0MT/HA
West 7.0MT/HA

So what can we deduce?  Not a lot other than some farms are much better than others and there is a great deal of variability behind the headlines.

I will update this as I get further reliable reports.

Sunflowers are in the sun and in flower

Sunflowers are well in flower with the later sown crops catching up in the sun and heat, currently 30 degrees plus during the day.

Should we spray a fungicide against sclerotinia and botrytis?

Many are recommending that we do; my feeling is that it is unrealistic to expect a few grams of active to penetrate and translocate through such a large plant to do any good.

Also the average yield for nine of the top producers in Ukraine was 2.3MT/HA over the last two years with a range from 2.1 to 2.6MT/HA.

I just can’t see applying $60 to $70 worth of chemicals at this stage will be economic.

I would appreciate any thoughts from those who have been growing SF for longer that I have, drop me a line at Agronomy.ukraine@yahoo.co.uk

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

The Wizard of Oz?

The all knowing Ministry of Agriculture has reported that grain has sprouted on 1.5% of crops, 5.2% has fallen over and 1% just died.

Surely they didn't just make that up?

Sunday, 10 July 2011

Ukraine’s a weird place sometimes

Driving between two farms last week, literally in the back end of nowhere (not far from Chernobyl as it happens) when I passed the Olympic torch carrier.

OK so it wasn’t the Olympic torch as that won’t be coming out of the UK after the Chinese PR catastrophe when they took it around the world and had to fight off demonstrators along the way.

No idea who this guy was but there was a police escort and support group and he seemed really pleased that I stopped and took a photo.

Maize is looking good

Unlike the News of the Screws which has finally been chucked in to the bin of obscurity where it should have been relegated to about three decades ago along with those other beacons of good taste and tolerance, Love They Neighbour and Jim Davidson.

The rain has really pushed the maize along and many crops are evening up and filling out (see picture); are we about to see a bumper 2011 crop?

Tempting to say yes but we still have a long way to go.

Saturday, 9 July 2011

Caught by the fuzz!

Regularly getting stopped by the police and paying a bribe goes with the territory but every now and then it goes beyond a joke.

It was 5:30am just outside Lviv at the police checkpoint (yes, they still have checkpoints along with gates to close the road; behaving like an occupying force was a characteristic inherited from soviet times).

The reason I’m on the road in the pouring rain at 5:30 in the morning is because I am working.

Arguably so was this guy but unlike him while I am working for personal financial gain I am also contributing to society.

I am growing food; grain, meat, milk, sugar, oil, at the same time creating jobs, prosperity and well-being for many, many, many individuals which goes towards improving the overall economy by spreading wealth, security and opportunity throughout the wider community.

Pebbles in pond if you will.

Numb nuts of the Yard on the other hand is a drunk, fat, illiterate, work shy, barely educated, bigoted leach of a man who preys on the very people he is supposed to be serving for nothing more than his own personal greed and contributes the sum total of nothing to the greater good of society.

He is universally hated and loathed by everyone, is surrounded by choking negativity, despised by all he comes in to contact with, has no friends outside the job, wears a crappy uniform to work that involves nothing more cerebral than standing on the side of the road bullying people.

In short he is a vacuous loser with halitosis and a 70’s moustache.

That feels much better.

Friday, 8 July 2011

Sugar beet

Is looking good and will have enjoyed God’s irrigation.

Like with all spring crops this year, pre-emergence weed control has not worked well lacking moisture to activate it.

Sugar beet unlike other crops however, does compete reasonably well once canopy closure occurs.

I think we might be looking at the makings of a decent sugar yield.


Are starting to flower, at least the very earliest crops are and their cheery little yellow faces have lifted the otherwise grey conditions of last week.

The main crop (pictured) is still a little off flowering but generally looks good.

We will need to keep an eye on botrytis after the recent rains; I’m not sure how much of a risk that is likely to be.

Disease update

All that wet weather has encouraged the usual appearance of late diseases in the cereal crops with sooty moulds, septoria and fusarium all vying for space on the ear.

This seems to be a perennial issue in Ukraine and some crops I have seen have had a full and robust fungicide programme so I’m not sure what more you could do about it.

This may be one of those specifically Ukrainian issues that limit the yield potential until we do a bit more research in to how to manage late ear diseases in a wet continental climate.

Expect to see a yield penalty as a result.

The rain has stopped...

…and the sun has come back out.

Reports coming from the min of ag that suggested harvest was going to be a wash out might have been a little premature as we return to near normal weather with forecast of 30+ over the weekend.

I even spotted some harvested barley (pictured) yesterday in Zhitomir oblast.

Earlier this week I was wearing a jumper and waterproof jacket and just for a minute as I sat in the car watching the rain pour out of the sky I actually thought it was autumn and four months had mysteriously disappeared from my memory.

Sunday, 3 July 2011

This weeks Numb Nuts award goes to...

...Yuri at the Apple store in Kiev.

I need a new phone and I decided to take the plunge and invest in an iPhone, so I visited the Apple Store in Dreamtown (a particularly garish shopping mall along the lines of the American model, I imagine) to buy a phone.

"We don't sell iPhone 4" says Yuri "cos they're illegal in Ukraine."  Eh?

"But we do sell iPods." 

Which admittedly do look a bit like an iPhone with one minor difference. 

It's not a phone.  Classic.

Weather update

It has been raining quite a lot over the last week or so; enough to make a difference to many spring planted crops which are now looking much better.

Coupled with cooler temperatures of late and we currently have a very good growing period.

The dry weather at spring planting and emergence will have encouraged roots to go deep looking for moisture which will mean the root system will be better suited to keeping the crop growing longer during the dry period that will inevitably return.

This is in direct contrast to last years wet spring in which roots didn't go deep because they didn't have to so when the drought hit plants couldn't find water and struggled to keep growing.

That's the theory anyhow.

Monday, 20 June 2011

Harvest has started...

...in Crimea with the first 35,000MT already in the bin or more likely piled up in heaps in open sided sheds, not much call for driers and bins in Crimea you see, too hot and dry to need anything so complicated.

The minister for agriculture held a press conference to announce the start of harvest but would not be drawn on putting a figure to yield estimates for this years harvest despite having already done just that about four weeks ago.

He acknowledged that high temperature and dry weather of late might have done for his initially optimistic 45MMT of grain. 

Here's another picture of the maize I mentioned earlier, perhaps the minister should get out more.

Weather update

The weather data for central Ukraine certainly seems to correlate with what we are seeing on the ground as per the picture in the previous post.
You can see the full data set at the USDA website here for all parts of Ukraine but the information is essentially the same in all regions; dry.

Rain has started to fall but it tends to be localised thunderstorms at this time of the year; localised as in it might fall in one village and not in the next only 5km away. 

Any rain we are getting is very welcome but for many crops will be too late to lift yields.

Who said farming was easy?

Amazing it ain't

Check out this picture I took of maize sitting somewhere in eastern Ukraine, click on the picture to make it bigger.

I made a road trip at the weekend from Kiev to Russia, all 500km there and 500km back and most of the maize looked like this. 

To put a figure on it I would estimate that 70% of what I could see from the road between Kiev and Sumy was in this condition or worse.

The dry weather has affected establishment, subsequent growth and pre-emergence chemicals have failed to activate.

A lot of the wheat wasn't doing too well either. 

Friday, 10 June 2011

Top idea of the week

The ministry of agriculture has proposed to the government that they should increase the basic value of farmland by 70%.

You can tell the min of ag is just brim full of bright sparks sitting around all day conjuring up one cracking idea after another; but how do they propose to follow up on this particular superlative idea?

When I sold my house I proposed that it was worth oodles of cash; unfortunately the buyer disagreed and offered me a price based on recent market transactions of similar gaffs in the area.

Isn’t that how markets work?

Thursday, 9 June 2011

Crop Update - wheat

Winter wheat is in flower with the earliest crops forming grain.

The dry weather has kept disease development subdued and the majority of crops are looking clean with large green flag leaves doing their job.

Mildew that was about earlier in the season has failed to move and if it is in a crop it is low down in the canopy and at low levels. Still worth keeping an eye on though as it can move quickly if weather changes.

The dry weather is just starting to stress plants particularly in the middle of the day when heat and light intensity mean transpiration rates exceed water uptake rates and the stomata close down in order to regulate water loss.

Harvest estimates at this stage are still good.

Farming is farming is farming

A regular comment I hear from my Ukrainian farming colleagues is "...that's all well and good in Europe but here in Ukraine the soil/sun/rain/snow is different so it won't work here!"

Distilled down to its essence, crop farming is the act of putting seed in the ground, nurturing it and harvesting the results. 

Doesn't matter where in the world you are, that's it. 

What changes is the timing of putting the seed in the ground and the nurturing and the harvesting but the fundamental act remains the same.

To that end I noticed that poppies are now in full flower in Ukraine as they are in England which suggests that any difference between timing is actually very small. 

Which to my mind suggests that modern farming practices and techniques are equally valid in Ukraine as in Europe and America and Ukraine is not some special place that only local agronomists know how to farm.

Remind me again what average yields are in Ukraine? 

Thursday, 2 June 2011

Local land for sale to local people, are you local?

Interesting turn of events, the Ukrainian government has said that when they finally lift the moratorium on land sale sometime next year it will only be to Ukrainian nationals.

The thought is that they want to stop the mass acquisition of Ukraine land by foreign companies.

You’re not going to lose any votes with that one but I suspect in reality it will be more complicated if not impossible to implement or enforce.

If a company is registered in Cyprus does that mean it’s still local?

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Now that is a coincidence

Ukraine and Russia announce in the same week they will be lifting their respective export restrictions.

The more sceptical amongst you might suggest the two separate items are indeed actually connected.

I couldn’t possibly comment.

The grain export ban is finally lifted…

…to be replaced with export duties which I’m sure still contravene WTO rules but hey, you can’t have everything.

Duties are 9% for wheat, 12% for maize and 14% for barley.

The bullish crop reports coming out of Ukraine, which will no doubt be helped by the end of then ban are based on uncorroborated announcements from ministries and government bodies that estimated yields and crop areas are up this year.

Crops do look very good at the moment but they always do in May and June and last year it was the weather conditions in late July and August that did for yields.

Plants are not showing signs of drought stress just yet but rain would be welcomed.

There is still a long way to go to harvest.

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Kiev…we have a problem!

I have been on a lot of farms lately – hence the slow blogging week – and one issue has consistently cropped up.

Every tractor, cultivator, sprayer and drill I have seen has either been set up incorrectly, missing parts or with bits just falling off.

Every time I questioned the tractor driver they have been blissfully unaware that there has been a problem with the kit they have been towing around for the last 1,000 odd hectares.

Make of that what you will.

Thursday, 12 May 2011

Oilseed rape agronomy update

Time to get back to some agronomy.

Walked some oilseed rape last week; moving into yellow bud and early flowering and pollen beetle just starting to emerge. 

Other points of interest include;

possible sulphur or magnesium deficiency seen on some crops;

possible boron deficiency;

and late frost damage.

Doing business in Ukraine?

Then you could do worse than check out the Business Ukraine website.

I like the recent piece from an international attorney on 10 legal pitfalls of doing business in Ukraine.

Pitfall No. 1: there are more than 10 pitfalls.

Probably a good idea to keep it away from your legal department or key investor as it will more than likely give them the heebie-jeebies.

Want to buy some wheat?

Then pop over to my new pals at EuropeanGrain.com and they should be able to sort you right out, don't forget to mention my name.

If your in the market for 6KMT of wheat, 10KMT of maize (that's corn to the septic's) or 2KMT of sunflowers then drop me a line after harvest.

They don't trade in buckwheat.

My final word on the subject of buckwheat

The ship load of buckwheat that arrived in Odessa from China last week cost $1,750/MT which is about $1,000/MT more than it should have cost.

Someone has made a shed load on the back of a much hyped story.


Wednesday, 4 May 2011

It's been very dry...

...and hot over most of Ukraine as witnessed by this photograph taken earlier in the week. 

The upside is we might not need to worry about subsoiling. 

Weather is now on the turn and light showers are being reported from most regions. 

Whether there is enough to replenish the dry soil time will tell, in the meantime crops are not (yet) showing signs of drought stress but it won't be long.

Thursday, 28 April 2011

The first batch of buckwheat has arrived!

Hurrah!  We can all go to bed with full bellies tonight; the first ship load of buckwheat has finally landed!

500MT of Chinese buckwheat has docked in Odessa and is being unloaded in to extra secure and triple guarded storage before being rationed out to the starving population. 

That works out at about 11grams each so go easy, more is promised next week.