New path for farming

[b]Agricultural companies conduct this year’s sowing campaign to raise crop yields, changing structure of fields[/b]In 2012, farms will, for the first time, plant serious volumes of sunflowers and soya, to be used as cost effective protein rich cattle feed (cutting the cost of producing meat and milk). By 2015, the Government target is to raise exports of Belarusian food produce from today’s $4bn to $7bn.
Agricultural companies conduct this year’s sowing campaign to raise crop yields, changing structure of fields
In 2012, farms will, for the first time, plant serious volumes of sunflowers and soya, to be used as cost effective protein rich cattle feed (cutting the cost of producing meat and milk). By 2015, the Government target is to raise exports of Belarusian food produce from today’s $4bn to $7bn.
As Belarus’ Deputy Agriculture and Food Minister, Vasily Pavlovsky, notes, this year, sunflower fields are to cover 25,000 hectares — up from 1,500 in previous years. Meanwhile, soya fields are to rise over 5-fold, specifically aiming to produce cattle fodder. The crop also suits the changing climate (temperatures in Belarus have risen by 1.2 degrees on average over the past decade). Efficiency in cattle breeding is a priority nationwide, due to huge export potential. By 2015, farms are to produce 8-10m tonnes of milk and 2m tonnes of meat, ensuring significant production growth. However, high protein feeds are essential.
Last year alone, the country exported 780,000 tonnes of sunflower and soya oilseed — worth $280m. “It’s better to pay our villagers to produce these crops than to buy them from abroad. We should be spending funds on the implementation of technologies necessary to grow these plants,” believes Mr. Pavlovsky. The crops will mostly be focused in the south of the Republic — in Gomel and Brest regions. However, other regions will, no doubt, join the trend. Last year, soya grew well in Minsk Region’s Stolbtsy District; in coming years, domestic farms should provide at least half of the country’s protein-rich fodder needs.
Flax oil is another promising avenue; being rich in essential vitamins, the oil has become a cult item for the health conscious. However, to date, it has largely only been seen in Belarusian pharmacies, with imports cornering this niche market. These are soon to give way to domestic flax oil, as 70 hectares of Belarusian fields are being dedicated to growing seeds this spring (to allow 15,000 hectares to be sown next year).
Lidsky Len (Lida Flax) JSC has already set up its first line to process flax seeds, with similar coming into operation in Postavy and Volozhin. The Agriculture and Food Ministry believes this useful product will enjoy demand both domestically and abroad. Of course, farms will continue growing traditional flax fibre (working with the National Academy of Sciences’ Scientific-Practical Centre for Land Reclamation). They aim to enhance harvests and the quality of flax fibre. This spring, a list of recommended fibre flax varieties has been distributed for the first time, with 10 varieties to be planted (instead of 34).
No doubt, the domestic agro-industrial complex is experiencing a revival, after having only aimed to satisfy the country’s food security a decade ago. Now, it feels confident in mastering new foreign markets and niches, earning foreign currency. A third of all agricultural produce is being exported while products previously imported (such as wheat, buckwheat and, even, vegetables) are now cultivated domestically. Moreover, bold managers are even trying to grow crops once viewed as unpromising in Belarus’ climate: some farms in the Rechitsa and Kobrin districts are planting watermelons. Meanwhile, the National Academy of Sciences’ Scientific-Practical Centre for Potato and Vegetable Growing has cultivated grape varieties suitable for Belarusian conditions (grown not only in the south but also in the central parts of the country — such as Samokhvalovichi, near Minsk).

Spring days ensure food for the whole year
Belarus’ agrarian success would be impossible without huge state financial aid. Over the past ten years alone, almost $40bn has been injected into the branch. This year’s sowing campaign will also be costly: more than doubling since 2011. Agricultural companies are covering most expenses but the Republican budget will provide 20 percent of funds and local budgets will also allocate money.
The Deputy Chairman of the National Academy of Sciences’ Presidium, Doctor of Economic Sciences Vladimir Gusakov, considers that state support offers some compensation for farmers being prohibited from setting their own prices. Of course, farms need to be motivated to reduce costs and strive towards self-financing so criteria for state support are being toughened. It will no longer be possible to spend money unwisely. Since January 1st, 2012,Belarus has been adhering to the Customs Union rules for the state support for agriculture (which envisage reduction of support to 10 percent by 2016 — from the current 16 percent). Moreover, this season, agricultural companies will be able to charge an extra 30 percent for their produce, which is sure to motivate them to raise yields.
This year, farmers need to collect around 9mln. tonnes of grain, 8mln. tonnes of potatoes, over 4mln. tonnes of sugar beet and about 2mln. tonnes of vegetables. Of course, forecasting is always tricky but we remain optimistic, as there are grounds to hope for the best. In spring 2011, almost 400,000 hectares of fields had to be re-planted after crops withered, but no more than 10 percent were lost this year. Accordingly, farmers are expected to grow 8.8mln. tonnes of grain — and more could be possible (up to10-12mln. tonnes in coming years, later rising to 15mln. tonnes).
Food is a valuable resource, worthy of investment. Food prices on the global market are due to rise, since population growth is outstripping growth in food production and oil and gas prices are ever rising. Moreover, the volume of suitable fields for farming is falling. The UN Food and Agricultural Organisation believes that, over the past 30 years, there has been no growth in agricultural production per capita. Accordingly, states which fully satisfy their domestic needs and can export internationally can only benefit. With this in mind, Belarusian scientists and agrarians are working to improve farming methods. Within the next five years, our lands could amaze us in their diversity and richness.

By Lilia Ogorodnikova
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