Sunday, 23 December 2012

Summary 2011-2012

Dry 2011 autumn

Cold winter

Very low levels of winter kill

Normal spring rainfall

Autumn planted crop yields down

Wet autumn

Prices up

Don't look back in anger...2012 review

The last twelve months has been busy busy busy; the shortage of blog posts attest to that.  A new baby due in the new year means I make no promises that my output will increase in 2013 but we'll see.
2012 started cold, very cold even by Ukrainian standards with temperatures in January falling as low as -35 Celsius and grain markets reacted accordingly.
One of the mysteries to me that is why does a rumour in January about a crop that can’t be seen under a thick blanket of snow, that won’t be harvested until August affect the grain price in Chicago?
That thick blanket of insulating snow meant there was no significant additional winter-kill and crops came out of the winter pretty much in the same condition as they went in.  The rumours were in fact just that; rumours.
Drought in the autumn had meant germination was patchy and poor looking wheat and rape going in to the winter still looked poor once the snow melted but it was all still there.
By the end of February temperatures returned to normal and spring weather started to arrive in March.
Soils quickly soaked up the melt water and field work started almost immediately giving some indication how dry the soils had been.
Planting started in April with record hectares of maize going in on the back of encouragement from the local administration.
Rain and warm temperatures in May saw crops speed through the growth stages with the first barley crops being cut in Crimea by the end of June.
Harvest was well underway by August with oilseed rape up on last year with official figures at 2.2mt/ha and wheat down at less than 3.0mt/ha.
New crop rape, wheat and barley started going back in to the ground in September in to pretty much ideal conditions, moist warm soils and warm weather encouraged good germination and early plant growth; very different to 2012.
October and an election saw the ruling party retain majority.
The rest of the harvest progressed through the autumn with official figures currently running at sunflowers 1.6mt/ha; maize 4.7mt/ha; soya 1.7mt/ha.
The wheat export ban came in to force in November then was off then back on again then no one seemed to know for sure.  It was reported that traders and the government agreed that once wheat exports exceed 5.5mmt a voluntarily restriction would come in to force.  At the time of writing export figures run at 5.6mmt.
Winter has arrived two weeks early with snow and sub-zero temperatures drawing the season to an early close.
In summary 2012 was a reasonable farming year but another difficult year in which to do business.

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

The boys are back in town...

Actually the boys are in this particular town for the first time the day before the election in October, with the boys being the German heavy metal outfit the Skorpions and the boys being well in to their fifties.

A fairly tortuous way of saying once again the Skorpions are touring Ukraine despite being here in 2010 on their much acclaimed farewell tour.

Talking of aging rock stars have you seen Angus Young lately? 

I enjoyed AC-DC when I was twelve, fond memories rocking out at the school disco and I was dumb struck with the rest of the rocking world when Bon Scott drowned in his own puke.  But for crying out load Angus it's time to change the image.  Hang up the school uniform for pity's sake, you look like one of the Krankies. 

Wearing a school uniform in your twenties was always a bit weird but now you're in your fifties it's just plain unpleasant.

You shook me all night long indeed.

Friday, 31 August 2012

Cool weather helped Ukraine corn pollination

The cool spell during pollination helped ensure a full seed set as seen in this picture taken today of a fairly typical example in western Ukraine.

Regular rain events have helped grain fill and I think we might be looking at some fairly hefty crops come harvest.

However my sources are telling me a different picture is emerging in eastern Ukraine with farmers starting to harvest corn crops at very, very low yields.

While it's always difficult to get reliable data on how much crop is grown what is true is the eastern regions account for 30 to 40% of the arable growing area.

So while we might see bumper crops in the west this will probably be offset by low yields in the east.

Monday, 27 August 2012

How time flies!

A combination of harvest, children and unscheduled hospital visits and before you know it mid-May turns in to late August and you haven't posted a blog in all that time!

Tempus fugit indeed!  So what's new?

Oilseed rape harvest is well and truly over with official yield figures coming in at 2.2mt/ha and a local spot price of 4,400uah/mt (543usd/mt) giving the crop the makings of a profitable enterprise.  At those parameters and assuming variable costs of 4,410uah/ha (544usd/ha) the gross margin is 5,270uah/ha (650usd/ha) which according to John Nix is about average.  Not bad for a crop that many had written off as lost during the cold winter.

Winter wheat harvest is all but over with current official estimates down on last year at 2.9mt/ha; most of that yield hit occurred in the dry autumn.  Current local spot is 1,700uah/mt (210usd/mt) with variable costs around 1,900uah/ha (234usd/ha) giving a gross margin of 3030uah/ha (374usd/ha) which is well below the low end of Professor Nix.  However keep in mind that wheat in Ukraine is the poor relation crop compared to rape, corn, sunflowers and soya and fixed costs, particularly rent are much lower.

Weather conditions have been very kind to the remaining crops in the ground; corn, sunflower and soya, with coolish temperatures and a little rain to help them along.

The much anticipated football tournament came to Ukraine and went by without any significant problems, I even managed to catch a couple of games; at one point I found myself sat slap bang in the middle of the German supporters during the Germany Portugal match.  How I cheered when Germany scored, das war gut ja!

The summer got hotter, then cooled, warmed up a bit and is now cool again. 

Weather patterns have by and large been very good this season unless you're in the east where for the third year running they have been complaining of drought and high temperatures.  Can you see a pattern?

The clock has gone full circle and new crop rape is going back in to the ground as I write, mainly in to warm moist seedbeds which is very different from this time last year. Bodes well for wheat plantings due to start in about three weeks.

There you have it, four months in Ukraine in a nutshell.

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Ukraine Crop update

Five years I have been in Ukraine and it always surprises me how quickly crops move through the growth stages, it really shouldn't by now but it does.

I follow crop development in western Europe via the power of the internet and at the beginning of April we seem so far behind anything in France, Germany or the UK.

Then BAM! May arrives and everything catches right up and starts to get a nose in front.

No sooner has oilseed rape woken up from the long winter, rubbed the sleep out of it's eyes and it's in full flower demanding the mid-flower spray.

Wheat goes from GS30 to flag leaf in the blink of an eye, so much so that you miss T1, have to send all the PGR back and are looking at T2 based on what you bought for T1.

Maize and sunflowers are now out of the ground with two leaves showing and will be up around your knees before the month is out, pushing the pre-em sprayer to the limit as a result.

One free piece of advice if your considering farming in Ukraine; when you have carefully written your workplan and diligently calculated how many sprayers you need, buy one more.

Thursday, 10 May 2012

New appointment

Look who got himself a new job this week, back in the driving seat and in complete control.

In truth he always was the front runner for the position with years of experience under his black belt and no one else vying for the position it was basically his for the taking.

Kolkhoz Kremlin is happy to see him back and expect output to rise significantly as a result.

To the next great leap forward!


On the 10th April the average temperature was 2 degrees Celsius, by 30th April it was 22 degrees.

That's an increase of 20 degrees in 20 days; no wonder everything suddenly turned green and started growing.

Recent reports that the hot weather may have affected spring seedling growth have come a little premature as temperatures return to near normal and showers cooled everything off.

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Weather update

April finishes with rainfall and temperatures above average and above this time last year.

May has started very warm with daytime temperatures reaching the mid to high twenties.

Occasional showers are continuing to water thirsty crops but not so much as to disrupt spring plantings.

In summary; marvelous weather, the question is how long will it last?

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Something is different...

You might have spotted that I have changed the layout of the blog a little bit.

After two years I thought it was time for an upgrade so here is the new revised Agronomy-Ukraine with comments about Russia too.

It's been a busy news week

Ukraine has been in the headlines for all the wrong reasons again this week.

Bombs left in litter bins exploded in Dnipropetrovsk.  With only 37 days to go to the start of Euro 2012 authorities were quick point out that because it is fiendishly difficult to pronounce, Dnipropetrovsk was not one of the host cities.

Then there is Yulia Tymoshenko, the jailed opposition leader who has allegedly been beaten up in prison and is reported to be on hunger strike.

As a result five European presidents have said they will avoid a summit meeting in mid May and the EU president along with Angela Merkel are the first to announce they will boycott the football tournament.

I suspect the football will go ahead regardless, probably best to avoid hanging around litter bins though.

Friday, 27 April 2012

The rise and fall of oilseed rape

A killer combination of cold winter and dry spring in Europe has reduced estimates for wheat and in particular oilseed rape.  Not so in western Ukraine where the crop is looking extremely good.

But there's not as much of it as there used to be. 

A quick look at the production figures shows the rise and steady fall of oilseed rape in Ukraine from 2005-06 when just over 100kha was grown to a peak in 2008-09 when more than a million hectares produced 2.7mmt. 

But why the decline thereafter?

A couple of difficult growing seasons, high cost of production and a lack of technical knowledge is in my considered opinion why we have seen the crop fall out of favour.

But could 2012 be a turn around season?  Low European output will push the price up, Ukraine is set for a good harvest, money will be made and everyone will get excited about oilseed rape again. 

Will 2012 planting rise on the back of it?  I think so yes.

Thursday, 26 April 2012


This time last year everyone was getting over excited about that staple of Ukraine cuisine, buckwheat.

Back in 2011 every man and his dog was telling me to grow buckwheat "cos it's more valuable than gold and you'll make an absolute killing". 

Taxi drivers, agronomists, old ladies on the street, everyone was behaving as if they worked for the Buckwheat Marketing Board on commission.

Funny how a year later no one is reporting a significant rise in the number of buckwheat millionaires. 

No one is reporting buckwheat full stop.  Until now...

Perfect Storm

It's been raining on and off for the last week and the forecast is for warm and dry. 

Perfect growing conditions. 

Ukraine is about to do what it always does at this time of year which is to go from brown to a vibrant green in the course of about a week.

A dry spell will allow corn and sunflower plantings to fully get underway and warm moist soils will encourage crops to positively shoot out of the ground.

Winter crops are improving all the time and I see other analysts are now agreeing with me and upping their assessment of Ukraine's winter crop potential.

Remember, you heard it here first.

Monday, 23 April 2012

Crop update

The weather is encouraging rapid plant growth and crops will be racing through the growth stages.

Oilseed rape first nitrogen should be on by now.  The crop is looking the best I have seen it for three years and has a lot of potential that will be worth looking after.  Production figures are suggesting a shortage of OSR so this years crop should be worth something.

Winter wheat is just approaching GS31 and requires first application of nitrogen from now.  Much of the nitrogen applied earlier than now will have been washed out of the soil and will not be available to the crop.

Maize and sunflower drilling is just about getting underway although recent rain has slowed plantings.

Officially all spring cereals have now been planted because the reports have been written saying so.  But it hasn't.

Monday, 19 March 2012

Please do not leave your valuables unattended

Passing plenty of trucks on the road loaded with big bags of nitrogen.

The season is getting underway as the first top dressing goes on.

Either that or it's being nicked.

Rumour has it that one large ag company, who shall remain nameless, were losing over half their inputs over the course of a season.

Make scousers look like mere amateurs.

I told you it was wet

Wheat in the north earlier today; see how wet it is as the ice melts.

Funny thing is even though you can't walk on this and driving is a bit like trying to herd a cow on ice, given a couple of good drying days you will see dust picking up.

Water just slides straight through with little organic matter to hang on to it you see, typically 2-3%.

We need to talk about Kiev

Lovely weather in Lviv this weekend; almost shirt sleeves with people out and about on the streets enjoying a beer in the warmish sunshine.

Crops are starting to wake up and recover from the worst of the winter excesses; sunshine and nitrogen do wonders at this time of year. 

Incidentally nitrogen fertiliser price seems to have dropped a smidgen as farmers have delayed purchases.

Spring is sweeping in from the west with snow and ice rapidly melting the further north and east you travel; correspondingly conditions are wet underfoot as the ice thaws but dries quickly in the wind.

My biggest concern is that we have not received sufficient winter rain or snow to replace soil moisture depleted by autumn drought. 

Coupled with poor root development particularly amongst the cereals it won't take long before we are looking at drought stress. 

Hard to believe right now but if we don't see some rain soon then we may be talking drought sooner rather than later.

Thursday, 15 March 2012

Update from Russia #2

Further south this time from Stavropol. 

My mate who sent me the picture said he went out with a broom and brushed the snow off the crop and was pleasantly surprised at the condition of the wheat underneath considering it hadn't seen daylight in four months. 

I read a recent insightful weather report from Russia that suggested it was going to remain cold and then get hotter. 

Like it does every year then?

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Russian wheat update

Here is a picture of wheat in the Russian region of Kursk taken yesterday. 

If what we are seeing in Ukraine is anything to go by then that level of snow cover will have given more than adequate protection from the very low January temperatures.

I'll strive to update on Russia once the snow disapears.

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

The seasons are a changing

It's true but how fast and when is it time to plant?

Here is the soil temperature for central Ukraine; by taking a trend line it is possible to estimate the planting times for sunflower and maize. 

Assuming a soil temperature requirement of 6 degrees for sunflower and 10 degrees for maize the current trend line indicates we will reach those temperatures on 27th March and 4th April.

But you need to apply some farmer wisdom to the data; from experience we are usually in to the second week in April before the soil has warmed up enough to give confidence at planting. 

The temptation is always to go early in a bid to get started and when you have 10kha of planting ahead you can understand why.

Friday, 9 March 2012

At last! The internet has a purpose!

Last night I went to a seminar at Kansas State University on Nitrogen Performance and Losses hosted by agronomy professor, Barney Gordon Ph.D.

I say I went, what I actually did was sit in my kitchen and log on to a webinar event then listened to Barney while watching his slides. 

No travelling, no overnight, I was able to have me dinner at the same time and it was possible to ask questions; brilliant!

My question which phased them a bit as it came from "the Ukraine" was; could Barney elaborate on the implications of applying nitrogen to winter wheat on to snow covered fields like they are currently doing here in Ukraine.

In a nutshell Barney said not a good idea.

Maybe I should do a webinar?  Drop me a line if you think it's a good idea, if there is sufficient interest perhaps I could do an update from Ukraine.

Webinars; brilliant idea, crap name.

Thursday, 8 March 2012

Womens day in Ukraine

Today is a very important day in Ukraine; today is women's day!

Essentially it is a day off work when women receive flowers and chocolates and men get drunk.

The day off work runs in to a couple of day so that's the weekend then, back to work on Monday. 

Seemingly random holidays occur throughout the calendar in Ukraine, I don't begrudge a holiday or two but I estimate that productivity runs at about 70% because of all the holidays.

There are about three separate Christmas's for starters, then there's Women's Day (men's day isn't a holiday); Defenders of Stalingrad Day; Red Army day; Labour Day; Victory Day; each city has a City Day; Constitution Day; Independence Day (I thought that was a film with Will Smith); Day of Knowledge Day; October Revolution Day; Fat Yuri Sings the Blues Day; Named Days; Tractor Drivers Day; Pig Farmers Day, Traffic Police Day (that is a holiday I support) and so it goes on.

Anyhoo congratulations to Wives, Mothers, Daughters and Sisters everywhere and remember; there is one thing worse than a male chauvinist pig and that's a woman who won't do as she is told.

Monday, 5 March 2012

It's alive!

Check this out; tiny oilseed rape plants four days after the snow melted having survived sub-zero temperatures.

I would have put my house on plants this small not surviving an average Ukrainian winter let alone one with temperatures down to minus 30.

I reckon this stuff would grow in the Arctic if you could get a subsoiler to break the pan first.

Cold pork

Temperatures dropped a little at the start of this week which shouldn't do any harm to the plants emerging from the snow.

The great thing about the cold is that the muppet traffic police have to stand out in it and freeze their doodads off in an attempt to extort their monthly quota of bribes and made up on the spot fines.

Ha ha ha ha ha ha. Freeze punk!

Friday, 2 March 2012

Harvesting corn in March is snow joke

Here is a crop of standing corn taken yesterday when the snow was still about. 

There is a fair bit of corn left from last year which will add to 2011 stocks once it's cut and at today's CPT price of 1,900UAH (237USD) I suspect a lot of it will get cut.

No idea what the quality will be like, I'm told it should be fine and that it is common practice to leave un-harvested crops standing through the winter in Iowa.  Is this true?

Spring has arrived!!!

Driving in to the office this morning which currently involves a two hour commute along some of the worst roads imaginable and I was greeted by the sight of green'ish fields completely free from snow.

How very strange because the day before it was white out with Arctic like snow drifts coming off the fields and falling snow. 

They say 24 hours is a long time in politics, it also seems to be true of agronomy.

I pulled over for look at some oilseed rape and it didn't look half bad at all, I may even go as far to say it looked the best I've ever seen coming out of a Ukrainian winter for some time. 

It was only about 200ha so not exactly a representative sample but as early indications go I think we may have a decent foundation for the 2012 crop.

Wednesday, 29 February 2012

EU always do that

The EU ambassador for Ukraine, Jose Manuel Pinto Teixeira has been fairly vocal of late with refreshingly direct comments about government policy and decision making.

Generally the government doesn't respond well to criticism acting like a petulant teenager with rebuffles and mumbled denials while shuffling its feet and starring intently at the ground.

"Ukraine has, regrettably, a dismal record on the business climate," Jose said at a meeting for business men and government officials.

"President Yanukovich's pledges, since he was elected, that vertical power was necessary to fight corruption and create an attractive business climate have regrettably produced no results," he lamented.

Ukraine's foreign ministry said it was "surprised" by Jose's comments.

Ukraine ranked 152 out of 183 economies in the World Bank survey Doing Business 2012.  It was 149 the previous year and according to the WB has one of the worst tax systems in the world.

It's a bit like saying it was "surprised" that it snowed this winter.

Monday, 27 February 2012

They think it's all is now

Congratulations to Liverpool who lifted the Carling Cup late last night after a dramatic match that went to extra time and penalties. 

Liverpool must be over the moon.

Commiserations to Cardiff who played a blinder and must be sick as a parrot (may be I should branch out in to sport writing).

I didn't see the game as it was only available on the BBC; I did listen to it on scouse radio over the internet.  Why is it next to impossible to watch major sporting events despite the overwhelming platforms to show them?

Weather warms then cools

We saw a gradual thawing last week with rain speeding up the melting process.

Over the weekend temperatures dropped again - my thermometer is currently reading minus 6 at six in the morning - with snow flurries.  Nice word that, flurries.

The concern now is how those plants that are poking out of the snow and are exposed to the elements will stand up to cold weather.  My instinct is probably OK if it doesn't get too cold and for too long; forecast is for better weather by Wednesday.

Friday, 24 February 2012

February grain exports

February grain exports will be 1.5-1.6MMT, said Nikolai from the Minister of Agrarian Policy and Food of Ukraine. 

Apparently the low rates of grain exports are associated with difficult and specific weather conditions in the Black Sea, the wrong sort of snow and leaves on the track that hinder the shipment of wheat but not corn.

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Is too much sugar a bad thing?

The Min of Ag seem to think so; they have just announced plans to reduce the sugar quota by 1.5% or 0.027MMT to 1.883MMT for the 2012/2013MY.

They claim that will be more than enough satisfy Ukraine's decayed tooth of 38kg per capita and still leave 107KMT for other needs.

Last year Ukraine produced 2.33MMT of sugar, up 50.5% on the previous year.

Saturday, 18 February 2012

Vodka Mixer

Yuri the bear spotted earlier today entertaining the kids at a local shopping centre.

Harmless and endearing it was too; my little lad was in awe of the "giant man in a bear suit".

Except he is advertising a local well known strip joint and poker club.


Mind how you go now

Travelling around Ukraine doesn't get any easier in the winter but at least the snow fills in the pot holes.

Walking around is equally treacherous.

In the last three weeks we have seen three relegated to the injury bench; Sandy popped out for a pint of milk and came back two weeks later with a replacement hip; Georg slipped off the kerb and slipped his shoulder out of it's socket; I came off least damaged but continue to limp around on a bruised ankle.

It's a dangerous place is Ukraine, not for the weak, grrr!

Thursday, 16 February 2012

Crop condition put in to context #2

Agritel have said "the impact of the cold wave is still difficult to assess."

Truth is we never really know until the snow clears, the first application of nitrogen is applied and the sun warms everything up a bit. 

Even then it is a long way to go until harvest and the stuff is safely in the shed.

5.0 million hectares of maize is being suggested in Ukraine this year.

Crop condition put in to context

There are four oblasts or regional divisions in Ukraine were the crop condition has been identified as being "of concern". 

These are Odessa, Kherson, Mykolaiv and Zaporizhia; cold temperatures with no or little snow cover will have done for many over wintered wheat and oilseed rape crops.

As I have mentioned on numerous occasions reliable statistics in Ukraine are as rare as a none white premiership football manager but my sources indicate that these four oblasts out 28 account for over 20% of the arable area.

If reports are correct regarding winter kill in these regions then Ukraine looks to heading for a significant drop in wheat and oilseed rape production for 2012.

Maize seed is getting hard to come by so I think we can see how 2011 is starting to stack up.

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Michaels Foot

Slipped on ice this afternoon. 

Actually it was a plastic bag on top of ice, a lethal combination, down like a sack of potatoes.

Honestly I thought I had broken my leg, ankle, knee the whole lot!  I was expecting to find bone sticking out and my boot filling with blood. 

As you can see by my x-ray it wasn't broken.

Say what you like about the Ukrainian health service and I often do - remind me to elaborate on my near death, three operation, seven holes and only one appendix story sometime - I was x-rayed with minutes of arriving at A&E.

Well done chaps!

Monday, 13 February 2012

Wheat and oilseed rape update

Here is a photograph of winter wheat and oilseed rape taken yesterday from 30,000 feet somewhere between Kiev and Lviv.

Admittedly it is difficult to see the crop beneath a blanket of snow but that doesn't stop everyman and his dog taking a punt on what the level of winter damage might be.

Many of last winters doom and gloom reports suggested similar death rates to this year yet we went on to harvest some pretty respectable crops.

My advice; treat crop reports with caution.

Saturday, 11 February 2012

Take note Heathrow

Lviv airport 6:30am this morning, minus 18, a foot of snow, the plane leaves on time!

Thursday, 9 February 2012

I've just heard...

Roy Hodgson IS in the frame for the England managers job!

Back in the USSR

Everyone drives like they are on acid and it smells of soup, borsch to be precise. 

Ukrainian fertiliser prices are increasing while everywhere else they are falling; Syngenta are targeting "higher prices for 2012"; Ukrainian government continue to make noises about export restrictions; dry autumn delays winter crop development, recent cold weather makes what did grow look decidedly risky;

The year has only just started and it's already looking gloomy.  It could be worse;  Roy Hodgson could be in the frame for the England managers job.

Monday, 6 February 2012

The weather in Ukraine... very cold , fortunately I'm in the UK at the moment where I stumbled across this war trophy in the grounds of the local museum. 

The cold in Ukraine has coincided with a lot of snow cover so most plants should be OK assuming temperatures lift to a more seasonal minus 10 some time soon.

Cold in itself is not an issue so long as there is some insulating snow but much of Ukraine's winter plantings went in to the winter in a weak and underdeveloped state so they will be at more risk. 

The Min of Ag is suggesting losses up to 35% which I think is high, 20% would be my estimate.

Sunday, 5 February 2012

Normal service will resume shortly...

After a couple of emails concerned that I might have come to a sticky end in rural Ukraine or the secret service had finally caught up with me I thought I should post to let all and sundry know that Ukraine agri blogging will resume shortly.

It's been a busy time with lots of agri-business stuff happening all over Ukraine and Russia, interesting times to be farming in the workers paradise.

Watch this space.