Tuesday, 8 December 2015

Did Ukraine just reach a tipping point?

Ukraine’s parliament has just adopted a law to bring seed and seedling legislation in line with European and other international standards.

Seems innocuous enough and detail is sketchy but if this means what I think it means it could have far reaching ramifications for Ukraine agriculture and the global grain trade as a whole.

One of the biggest restrictions to Ukraine increasing cereal grain output is plant genetics; to put it bluntly Ukraine domestic wheat varieties are, by and large, not very good. 

They produce few (if any) tillers (shoots), the grains per ear is (woefully) low resulting in a low number of total grains (tonnes) per hectare.

You can throw as much nitrogen and pesticides at it as you like but if the genetic potential is low it’s going to stay low.

In the past legislation all but barred the import of seed wheat and barley varieties (not corn or oilseeds though) by creating barriers to make it an economic proposition, presumably done to protect Ukraine’s crumbling seed breeding industry.

This new piece of legislation could be the catalyst to open up the market to imported cereal seeds which have the potential to double wheat yields within a season or two.

That might be an oversimplification, you have to have better husbandry to allow better genetics to reach its potential but the reality is there are a awfully lot of very good farmers in Ukraine who could do just that.

This year Ukraine will export around 11mmt of wheat or 7% of the worlds trade; a modest yield increase of, say, 20% could increase exports to 16mmt plus.

Today could just have been a very important day indeed for Ukraine and agriculture as a whole.