Friday, 7 November 2014

Why Ukraine crop condition might not be as bad as reported

The latest analysis on Ukraine crop condition is that devalued currency, lack of credit and economic uncertainty meant farmers have cut back on inputs leaving autumn cereals more susceptible to the forthcoming colder than average winter.

A pretty negative assessment perhaps but cutting back on inputs in the autumn might not necessarily be a bad thing.

Traditional (soviet) advice was to apply twenty odd kilograms of nitrogen to wheat in November to "give it a bit of a boost" ahead of the winter.

The effect was to make the crop greener and bigger but actually more susceptible to cold weather (something to do with plant cell size being larger and more likely to rupture on freezing). 

It’s now widely acknowledged that autumn applications of nitrogen fertiliser to all but the most backward of winter cereal crops has no impact on final yield so spending money in October is essentially a waste of time.

Cutting out autumn nitrogen not only saves money but it may actually improve winter survival rates.

As most Ukrainian farmers don’t apply residual herbicides because they believe it will damage the crop (it doesn't and they should) there are no chemicals to cut back on and no one applies autumn fungicides or insecticides.

You can’t really cut out seed otherwise you don’t have a crop and as pretty much all cereal seed is home saved most farmers would already have it in the shed ready to plant. 

Farmers might cut back on seed rate which as most crops are sown dense anyway might also be a good thing.

A lower seed rate saves costs (or creates some cash as you can sell off the surplus) and can increase yield if done right.

Diesel is the major autumn expense so cutting back on cultivations when cash is tight pretty much the only tangible cost saving to be made.

Many Ukrainian farmers cultivate the soil down to a fine, dry dust then wonder why the soil and seed get washed away in the first heavy rainfall or the seed germinates so slowly its super small going in to the winter.

Cutting back on cultivations will have conserved moisture, improved infiltration rates, reduced erosion and may have actually improved plant emergence and survival.

So it might not be as bad as analysts are reporting, sure the crops are small but any cutbacks to inputs might actually save money and improve the overall relative condition of the crop.