Profit in wider sense
[b]Vegetables will soon join milk and meat as Belarusian exports. By 2015, Belarus will be selling no less than 90 tonnes of cabbages, carrots, onions, tomatoes and other such products abroad, as Belarus’ Deputy Minister for Agriculture and Food, Vasily Pavlovsky, tells us. He believes that even better results are possible, with harvests raised and costs lowered via the state agrarian programme. We may yet export at least half a million tonnes of vegetables abroad.[/b][b]Precise calculations[/b]Vegetable harvests in Belarus were inadequate five years ago, leaving us to import not only those which don’t grow easily in our fields (peas, sweet corn and runner beans) but onions, garlic, cabbage, carrot and other leafy vegetables.
Vegetable harvests in Belarus were inadequate five years ago, leaving us to import not only those which don’t grow easily in our fields (peas, sweet corn and runner beans) but onions, garlic, cabbage, carrot and other leafy vegetables. Sometimes, even good crops might go rotten for lack of adequate storage, leaving them to be thrown away or used as fodder for cattle.
In 2005, the state decided to support agrarians via a five year programme to develop vegetable farming. Farms were asked to focus on growing vegetables high in certain vitamins and on producing particular seeds, while transportation expenses were cut by selecting enterprises situated near canneries. Moreover, the use of greenhouses was expanded and the Institute for Vegetable Crops at the National Academy of Sciences worked on new vegetable varieties — including hybrids. As a result, vegetable harvests rose 1.5 times and, this year, Mr. Pavlovsky foresees crops reaching 2.2m tonnes (from farms and private holdings). Pleasingly, where farms may have earlier grown no more than seven kinds of vegetables high in vitamins, they now tend to grow about 30 varieties.As medical experts determine that each person needs 140-145kg of vitamin rich vegetables annually, production of 160-170kg per capita is certainly impressive.
Onions have yielded the most impressive results, with no more imports required; our demand is just 15 thousand tonnes while we produce 40-60 thousand tonnes annually. We intend to reach the same result with garlic, which was previously almost fully imported. Today, 80 percent of our domestic market is supplied internally; by next year, no more imports will be needed at all. Canneries are already fully provided with peas and sweet corn grown domestically.
Belarus sells its surplus abroad, especially to Russia; over 20 thousand tonnes of cucumbers and tomatoes grown in greenhouses are currently exported to our Eastern neighbour. Approximately the same volume of vegetables grown outside are being exported — primarily cabbages, carrots and beets. In fact, such crops have only recently been gathered in.
We’ll keep what we have
It’s common knowledge that, in winter, lack of sun and warmth makes vegetables even more vital for our health. Meanwhile, their lack of availability raises prices. Enterprises which have managed to store vegetables effectively can charge a good price. In Belarus, 115,000 tonnes of vegetables can be stored, but demand outstrips this by 135,000, explains Mr. Pavlovsky. There is clearly a pressing need for more storage facilities; reconstruction of existing facilities is a major task of the five year programme for vegetable farming development. Nobody wants to waste good crops on feeding cattle, as was the case in the time of our grandfathers. It is an impermissible luxury. Facilities to store 60 thousand tonnes of vegetables are being built and reconstructed in time for 2015 — all using the latest technologies.
Some enterprises already have access to chilled storage areas, such as Zhdanovichi agricultural plant, situated near Minsk. Its large hangars can hold up to 10 thousand tonnes of vegetables. Refurbishment continues, with refrigerating equipment allowing vegetables to be kept for extended periods, ensuring a steady supply through the year to hyper-markets.It even has a line to wash, cut and pack vegetables (into 2.5kg packs). Victor Delets, who heads the agricultural plant, explains that busy customers who lack a great deal of time to spend on cooking love the convenience of ‘ready to cook’ vegetables and it’s a great way for an enterprise to maximise profit.
Chilled storage, combined with vacuum packing equipment, is now being used at Gigant in Bobruisk District, at Vostok near Gomel and at Tolochin Cannery. The cost will soon pay for itself. In spring, carrots, beets and cabbages which have been kept in marketable condition will easily find buyers at home and abroad.
It’s hard to believe but, ten years ago, vegetable farms primarily used manual labour. It was one of the reasons that growing vegetables was so unpopular, as labour expenses were 20-25 times higher than those for growing corn. This led to a shortfall in supply, and the importation of expensive Dutch, Polish and Spanish vegetables each February to satisfy local buyers.
The situation began to change when our Russian-Belarusian programme to improve production and processing efficiency came into operation, using the latest technologies to promote vegetable growing. Three years of hard work by scientists from our two countries have definitely yielded fruit; farmers now have 40 types of new machinery and 20 progressive technologies.
However, more can be done to mechanise the process of harvesting beets, carrots, cabbages and onions. According to Mr. Pavlovsky, only 50 percent of farms’ needs are currently being met, leading to delays in gathering crops and loss of quality. Belarus is planning a two-pronged approach: buying machinery abroad and organising joint manufacture with foreign enterprises.
The five year development programme includes these targets, alongside the rebuilding of greenhouses. Some remain empty between November and February due to lack of light. However, the problem is easily solved by using special lighting equipment to extend the growing season. Zhdanovichi agricultural plant already uses two hectares of lit greenhouses, not only extending the productive season but improving crop yields (92-95kg of crops per square metre of soil, with the aim of reaching 100kg). In comparison, outside fields tend to yield 60kg of vegetables per square metre. Unsurprisingly, another 25 hectares of lit greenhouses are to appear in Belarus by the end of the year.
What else can we expect from the realisation of the programme? A greater choice of vegetables, lower costs (and prices), greater production of a diverse range of seeds of our own selection and modern facilities to grow seedlings are among the main targets. The Ministry for Agriculture and Food has no doubt that the new five year programme to develop vegetable farming will bring benefits — not just sales profits but an improved, vitamin rich diet for Belarusians, leading to good health.
By Lilia Khlystun