Ukrainian farmers are harvesting crops in a warzone as new agreements allow Ukraine to export wheat via Odesa. The Wall Street Journal’s Alistair MacDonald reports:
Misha Ananenko was on a tractor near this Ukrainian village when a mine underneath him exploded, erupting the earth around him. He picked himself up, showered, had a shot of vodka and the next day went back to work.
“Farming is always a struggle,” he said.
But as Mr. Ananenko and other farmers start their first wheat harvest since Russia invaded Ukraine, their resilience masks big problems for the country’s globally important agriculture industry that are expected to last long after the guns fall silent.
This harvest will be an early test of how Ukrainian farming is faring. Early readings suggest low yields owing to overly warm weather and a lack of fertilizer. A poor harvest would compound problems for the many farmers who have been unable to sell all their crops and are already struggling to finance the next round of planting. Restoring destroyed infrastructure and getting workers to return to the fields will take time.
While a recent agreement between Moscow and Kyiv to give grain shipments safe passage from Ukraine’s blockaded ports offers some hope for boosting exports over time, many farmers say they have little faith the deal will hold. A Russian missile attack on the port of Odessa shortly after the signing of the deal appeared to violate the terms of the United Nations-brokered agreement. Ukrainian officials said Friday that the first shipments of grain would leave in the next few days.
The ability of Ukrainian farming to get back on its feet could help alleviate strained global food supplies and ease price rises. It is also critical to Ukraine’s own ability to recover after the war. Agriculture employs 14% of Ukraine’s population and in 2021 the sector accounted for more than 40% of the country’s $68 billion in exports, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Many farmers don’t expect a speedy recovery. Even “if all this ends soon, we get loans and the ports reopen, still Ukrainian farming will return to its previous levels very slowly,” said Ivan Kriuchkov, who began harvesting his wheat last weekend.
Mr. Kriuchkov, who says Russian forces mined his land and stole his equipment, runs agricultural company IMC’s operations in the Chernihiv region, an area roughly the size of Belgium to the north of Kyiv.
Around 90% of IMC’s land in the Chernihiv region couldn’t be planted with spring crops, such as corn and sunflowers, he said, citing the occupation and presence of mines and other munitions in the fields.
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