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.

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Buckwheat; is chasing the market the right policy?

For the last eight months or so farmers, agronomists, investors and taxi drivers have all been telling me to grow buckwheat as the price is going through the roof.

That may well be, instinctively I have always felt the urge to pretty much do the opposite to what everyone else is doing.

If everyone is growing buckwheat on the back of promised high prices then my reaction is to leave them to it and the figures seem to back me up.

Ukraine’s buckwheat consumption stands at about 150,000MT.

In 2009 farmers grew 273,000HA and produced 189,00MT of the stuff; in 2010 planting was down to 215,000HA and they produced 133,700MT.

Last year planting was down but so was yield in the unprecedented heat and drought.

If this coming season we see the plantings the same as 2010 but yield are at 2009 levels then total buckwheat production will stand at just shy of 149,000MT.

That’s very close to domestic demand.

But we know the government is actively “encouraging” growers to plant the stuff so let’s assume plantings are up by say a conservative 10%, then production will at 163,700MT, well over domestic consumption.

There’s a fine line between shortage and surplus and state market mechanisms are generally just too blunt a tool to get the job right, ask the EU.

What is the potential output for Ukraine?

There is much discussion about the agricultural potential for Ukraine but what is the reality behind the hype?

Premier Mykola Azarov told Inger Anderson, Vice President of the World Bank that “Ukraine can potentially grow over 100mn MT of grain.”

Is 100mn MT of grain technically possible in Ukraine?

Firstly you need to define what you mean by “grain.”

State statistics include maize (corn) and soya to come up with the all-encompassing and rather unhelpful category of “grains and leguminous crops.”

So when Premier Azarov states that Ukraine can produce 100mn MT of grain let’s assume he means “grains and leguminous crops.”

The average area of these crops grown over the last 20 years is 14.4 million hectares out of an average total cropped area of 27.7 million hectares.

There is 42 million hectares of arable land in Ukraine although I suspect some of this will be low potential.

To achieve an output of 100mn MT of grain would require a 52% increase in grain cropped land area and 77% increase in yield.

Increasing the cropped land area by 52% requires investment and a stable business environment and is therefore technically if not politically possible.

Is a 77% increase in yield likely?

As a scientist I would say yes, it is possible with targeted investment in appropriate seed, fertiliser, sprays, equipment and staffing.

But given the reality of the situation on the ground I would say it is a highly unlikely.

Everything needs to be fixed starting with the land, subsoil, soil fertility and pH; weeds, grass and perennial weeds; cultivation and planting equipment; fertiliser spreaders, fertiliser, pesticides and crop sprayers; staffing, staff training, environmental management and record keeping; harvesting logistics, security and storage. I could go on but I think you get the picture.

What is the potential for Ukrainian agriculture?

Realistically? A lot less than many will have you believe.

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

It's not all muddy boots you know

I'm sitting in the Premier Palace Hotel after having arrived early for a meeting and pretty darn nice it is too.

Waited on attentively, Beethoven playing gently in the background, good coffee and a general nice ambience all make for a pleasant afternoon.

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Crops in good condition?

Now I am an optimistic kind of guy.

My glass is made from cut glass and half full of the purest mountain spring water so I don't mean to sound negative but here is some substance behind the current Ukrainian crop condition reports.

Reports are suggesting that the crops are in good condition which is true by and large. 

Wheat has come through the winter in good condition and as sun and nitrogen start to work they look pretty as a picture. 

But they always do in April, May and June, it's from then on that they can go pear shaped as we saw in last year's heat (and it was heat rather than the drought that reduced yield).

Winter oilseed rape falls in to two categories; those that received sufficient rain at establishment and have a good plant stand and those that didn't and will need re planting. 

They need replanting because of weather conditions at establishment not the winter.

I keep reading about the harsh winter we have just had however the figures suggest otherwise.

Apart from a brief cold snap in February the temperatures have been above average and this can be seen in the field, even late sown wheat and small oilseed rape plants have survived.

So what do we learn from all these reports?  

Not a great deal other than to treat news articles with caution, assume there is an agenda (even here) and gather information from as many sources as possible.

Monday, 18 April 2011


Buckwheat seems to have acquired somewhat of a following. 

I mentioned buckwheat about two weeks back and how the local administration was "encouraging" farmers to plant more this year and how politicians really should butt out and leave business to people who understand it.

This seems to have instigated a spike in people accessing my blog after searching for "buckwheat"; people from all over but mainly India, the USA and even Alaska!

Always a pleasure to greet new visitors and the first from Alaska, Eagle River Alaska to be precise.

I will undertake some research in to buckwheat to find out why there is such an interest and report back.

Sunday, 17 April 2011

Great Grain Robbery #2

An interesting turn of events is currently taking place in Kiev to which I confess to being a little bit twitchy about.

Kyiv Post have published an interview with the agriculture and food minister, Mykola Prysyazhnyuk (here) in which KP refer to the "Great Grain Robbery" and he avoids answering any questions regarding export restrictions and quotas. 

On Friday KP publish an article in the Business Section by Morgan Williams (here) in which he refers to the "Great Grain Robbery".

Business Sense and KP Editor in Chief is one Brian Bonner.

News is emerging that Brian Bonner has been dismissed after refusing to remove the article and KP staff are on strike demanding his reinstatement.

Why am I twitchy? 

If you google "great grain robbery Ukraine" it takes you directly to my comments on this blog on 16th March (here). 

Was that a knock on the door?

Thursday, 14 April 2011

Growth stage explained

I have had a few requests to explain the meaning of cereal growth stages, something I spent years doing when I used to teach the subject but as a quick reminder here it is, so pay attention at the back!

GS 30 ear at 1cm; dissect the plant and look for the ear which admittedly is difficult to spot but with some care and practice becomes easier to identify. 

If it is less that 1cm from the base of the plant then your not at GS30, if it is more than 1cm then your in business.

GS31 first node detectable; again disect the plant and look for the ear and the node, if you can spot the difference and the gap between them is more than 1cm your at GS31 and you win a prize.

Winter wheat growth stage update

Just back from looking at some wheat in the west and here it is. 

All sitting up well at pseudo stem erect (GS30); make sure all the nitrogen is on in the next ten to fourteen days.

Why cultivate once...

...when you can spend all day hurtling around the fields having the time of your life?

I saw this (sadly all too typical) field a couple of days back which I presume was spring barley although at the time it was too wet to get out of the car and check.

Over cultivation before rain not only cost a packet but has encouraged the seedbed to slump down good and tight, all it needs now is the sun to come out and bake it hard, lovely stuff.

Sunday, 10 April 2011

Weather update

A quick look at soil temperature this Sunday morning shows a slight drop in recent days; currently around 5 degrees.

Forecast through to middle of the week is highs of 10 and lows of 2 with rain which will keep soil temperature cool.    

Saturday, 9 April 2011

Ukraine and an EU free trade agreement

The Ukrainian President is quoted as saying "Ukraine wants to finalize the free trade deal with the EU this year, a move that would make joining the ex-Soviet trading bloc impossible."

Some think this makes it clear that Ukraine prefers a free-trade deal with the EU over Russia.

I would suggest you wait and see what the Ukraine government does rather than what they say they will do.

Thursday, 7 April 2011

The Storks are back in town...

...or at least the fields.

Actually they have been back for a couple of weeks in the south but are starting to move up country.

Storks or Cranes?  I can never remember.

Festival of fire

About this time of the year, right across Ukraine we enter the season of the elements, celebrated by a four week Festival of Fire.

The essential idea of the Festival of Fire is to set fire to just about anything then bugger off and leave it to burn out of control with no regard for wildlife or road users.

I have asked why this done and the usual answer accompanied with a shrug of the shoulders is to tidy up.

T1 Options

Choices in Ukraine are fairly limited but any azole fungicides would be the preferred option.

Independent 2010 dose response curve trials show Brutus and Seguris to give the best response at half rate although as far as I am aware none of these are available in Ukraine.

However they do both contain epoxiconazole which can be found in mixtures in Ukraine.

Cereal diseases

Wheat and barley starting to reach Growth Stage 30.

In the south of Ukraine we are seeing the earliest cereals reach the critical pseudo stem erect stage (GS30) with some individual plants moving in to GS31, ear at one centimetre.

Why is this crucial?

Two reasons, firstly you need to make sure all your nitrogen is on by this time and secondly it is the growth stage to start targeting T1 fungicide treatment if you are going to apply a T1.

T1 means first treatment and will be important this season because we are seeing a lot of septoria on the lower leaves, sufficient to represents a significant risk to justify a T1.

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Business award of the week...

...goes to Narodne Taxi.

I use this taxi company from time to time, they have just dropped me off at home and I have to commend them on a fabulous, customer focused service.

They give me hope that it can be done in Ukraine.

They've taken the basic taxi business, looked at it from the customers eyes and developed a top notch service that other companies would do well to note.

You call them, they phone you back so you don't have to pay for the call, within minutes they text you the time, colour, make of vehicle and price, the taxi turns up on time, clean, in good condition, with all its doors and seatbelts, the driver is sober, courteous and helpful and they give you a discount card to boot.

I am impressed; I would have no hesitation recommending them, well done Narodne Taxi,

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Cold weather continued...

Further analysis of the weather data shows that this year's cumulative total temperature from 1st January (excluding minus readings) is 146.5 degrees compared to the long term average of 67.5 degrees.

Or 60% of March was at or above the average.

Conclusive proof then that this year is actually warmer than normal!

Except this is one data set for a country the size of France but it does demonstrate that you need to be careful when reading headlines. 

My contacts in the west are telling me the weather is lovely there and cereal planting is going ahead apace.

Cold weather delays spring planting...or does it?

UkrAgroConsult are lowering its harvest forecast due to winterkill, late spring sowings and a lack of combines to bring the harvest in.
May all be true and probably is but worth re-visiting the weather data to see how late this spring actually is.
The records up to today suggest soil temperatures are bang on average for the time of year. 
Soil temperature has been near to or above the long term average for most of March.
We like to bring you the detail behind the headline. 


A shortage and subsequent high price of the Ukraine staple, buckwheat has encouraged the government to encourage growers to grow more this year.

I'm not sure how this works but it seems central planning hasn't entirely gone away and free market rules don't apply.

One thing I have learnt in all my years is not to go chasing markets; come the buckwheat harvest when the price is on the floor who will pay for that mistake? 

Monday, 4 April 2011

Website thanks

We had a good response to the website (re) launch.

Thanks for all the comments, recommendations and ideas.  We will incorporate some of the suggestions over the coming weeks and working on the glitches and ironing out the errors.

Please keep the ideas and comments coming in and once again a big thanks to all.

Sunday, 3 April 2011

Agronomy Ukraine Website

We’ve re-launched the website this weekend.

Why not pop over and have a look while it’s quiet first thing on Monday morning before the boss comes in.

Mind you if you are caught you can say it is legitimate research unlike some of those specialist websites you have been known to take a peek at when the office is empty late on a Friday afternoon.

We will be adding to the site over the coming weeks and appreciate any comments or suggestions that you may have.

Oilseed rape latest

I estimate between 20 to 30% of oilseed rape will be replanted this spring.

A combination of dry weather at planting and a lack of snow cover has taken its toll.

I have seen many crops looking like this photo which was taken last week.

There are plants there but they are small and low in numbers.

While some growers will re-plant with spring oilseed rape it is likely that most will opt for spring cereals, maize or sunflowers depending on what herbicides, if any, have already been applied.

They think it's all over...not yet

The government has posted a notice saying that grain export quotas are to be extended until the end of June.

There was some confusion about the quotas being lifted on Friday but normal service has it seems been restored. 

Not much surprise there.

Friday, 1 April 2011

Business development to enjoy full government support

Investors reacted with overwhelming support to the news that Ukraine introduced legislation today to make business a free, transparent, fair and open process.

A spokesperson from the Ukrainian government said that "it is time for change; the government recognises it's failings in the past and is now here to make amends and will assist business development for the benefit of all citizens".  

On other pages, the Italian spaghetti crop is hit by a late frost.