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Ukrainian farmers share planting outlook, supply challenges

Farm and supply company managers share the state of Ukraine’s ag industry caught in the middle of the war zone.

Betsy Jibben, Media Director

March 23, 2022

9 Min Read
Flag of Ukraine is blue-yellow lying on ripe wheat

Only first names are quoted in this article in an effort to protect the safety of interviewees on the call. An English translation was provided on the conference call to help with the language barrier.

It’s been nearly one month since Russia invaded Ukraine, launching missile strikes, displacing families, seizing the country’s port system and putting the growing season in question for Ukrainian farmers.

The Trend and Hedge Club, a Kyiv-based International Traders Discussing Club, hosted a video conference last week with large farm managers, ag supply company managers and traders to figure out the state of the agricultural industry in Ukraine. Some of the speakers are located in Donetsk, Karkhiv and Sumy regions, which are ground-zero for daily battles.

Farmers, traders and input suppliers responded to survey questions during the conference. The answers for the biggest problems were: fuel, logistics, cash and then employees. The lesser problems were seed, chemicals and fertilizer.

On this call, the majority of attendees said fuel was a large issue throughout the country as it is used for military purposes. Seed suppliers made it sound as if seed isn’t a large issue for the 2022 growing season. However, planting the seed may be a problem depending on the crop and area. They stressed the challenge ahead of applying inputs to receive the best yield potential and quality. They even stated seed production for the 2023 year may be even more critical.

Related:Special report explores agriculture impact of Russia-Ukraine conflict

Ukraine’s production depends on area

Ukraine crop production table

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Foreign Agricultural Service, corn, wheat and sunflowerseed are the country’s top crops for production. 

Ukraine’s corn production last year was an ‘absolute record’, according to club members. However, there are roughly 15 MMT not shipped yet.

“These volumes cannot be consumed within the country within the whole year, says Elena, an Ukrainian commodity analyst. “The domestic consumption of corn and wheat is about 7 MMT for each of those crops.”

Ukraine corn production map USDA FAS

Planting will begin in about six weeks for corn, sunflowers and soybeans. However, whether farmers are able to plant this year depends on location. For corn farmers, it’s hard to know right now.

“The corn belt of Ukraine, almost half of it is occupied by Russia or the hostilities taking place,” says Elena.

Assessed control of terrain in Ukrain as of March 18 2022

Members of the club say, in some instances, Russian military has targeted farm equipment storage areas to compromise planting in Ukraine.

Screenshot of tweet


The club stays 90% of Ukraine’s wheat traditionally is winter wheat. Most of the wheat, around 16 million acres, is already planted and harvest will begin in 3 to 3.5 months.

Related:Farming in a war zone: ‘We plan to plant this spring’

If farmers do not have an opportunity to apply fertilizer to the wheat, the club expects at least a 15% drop in yield. There’s also a big question mark which regions may be controlled by Russia come harvest.

Ukrainian government: Fuel is one of the largest problems

According to UkrAgroConsult, fuel supply is a critical factor for the grain crop. There is a shortage of diesel, supplied across the western border, which is a top priority for sowing.

Denis, the adviser to the Minister of Agriculture, attended the call and highlighted the critical fuel problem.

“The biggest problem is now fuel," says Denis. “It’s not a secret for anyone, the shortage is up to 80%.”

He says the 80% deficit was from a survey of those who manage 7.4 million acres of ground.

Denis says there is not an intention for the government to purchase grain stocks from Ukrainian farmers at this moment.

When asked about exporting grain through rail, Denis said, “Technically, there is no more capacity. There [are] some small volumes which you can export by truck. Regarding the cost of transport and lack of trucks, this is a very limited possibility.”

Screenshot of tweet

The club says rail exports are occurring at smaller capacities.

Seed supply available for 2022

Victor, director of a seed company that supplies 18-20% of Ukraine’s sunflower hybrid seeds and 6-7% of its corn hybrid seed, spoke on the call.

Victor says “the level of 100%” of 2022 corn seed is available for Ukrainian farmers. Sunflower seed is imported, and nearly 75-80%  of seed has been delivered. The question is if farmers are able to plant.

According to Victor, they are anticipating getting more seed, but he explains that not all areas will get planted this year if the hostilities are still ongoing.

If war continues, Victor believes there will be low production of hybrid corn and sunflower seeds for farmers to plant during the 2023 growing season.

“Not all parental lines were delivered to the country. The difficulty is you put one parental line first and another later. Plus, it’s a difficult situation with irrigation,” says Victor.

It means farmers may need to diversify.

“We have to diversify seed growing. My recommendation for all supply companies is to diversify that among the biggest number of regions,” says Victor.

He says there’s a lack of seed in Europe for this year which creates a challenge for next year, too.

“Because the export is suspended, it will be difficult to ship the grain and seed grain,” says Victor. “I don’t’ think we’ll be able to count on Europe because Europe [counted on receiving seed from Ukraine] before the war.”

Inability to apply inputs could slash yields

Victor says if chemicals aren’t applied to wheat now, yield could drop 15%. Lack of inputs altogether could cut yields roughly 20-30% on average. Rapeseed needs attention soon as well.

He says insecticide availability is critical because bugs will diminish wheat grain quality from food grade to feed grade.

Chemical and seed companies try to help

Dmytro, a manager of a major seed and chemical company, says 2022 seed purchases have been a problem for farmers. Banks are not operational or not financing new loans.

Farmers in “riskier areas” were given financial vouchers in the past by the government to be used for seed purchases. It has not been approved by the government for this year.

“It’s quite logical but it’s not fully implemented because it requires legislative framework,” says Dmytro.

The major seed and chemical company he works for is attempting financial certificates through Ukraine’s banks for 2022 for nearly 80% of the bag cost. The company would guarantee roughly 20%.

The company moved some of its chemicals, but there are still warehouses in occupied territories. Chemicals, such as fungicide, are 50% short of supply and delivery is tough.

“We anticipate 30% will be the decline [in yield] in the best scenario [without crop protection],” says Dmytro. “If people are still working in the fields, we can get that. If not, it will be minus 50-60% [on yield for corn and sunflowers in his territory].”

Seed delivery versus supply

Dmitry, a director of a seed company and manager of a large farm operation of 205,000 acres, has 100 farm managers throughout Ukraine. The warehouses have a majority of products in Western Ukraine and 60% in Karkhiv.

“With the seed, it’s not a problem at all [this year]. We have seed available [with] 95% [availability],” says Dmytro. None of the clients say they don’t intend to plant.

The company has the same issue getting paid for seed deliveries. They are giving a partial credit to some clients and could shift deliveries.

Farm managers deal with labor, transportation

Sergiy, a manager of a French corporate farm of roughly 150,000 acres, is located in Karkhiv. Karkhiv is an area of unrest that produces 8% of wheat, 4% of corn and 10% of national crops. The operation primarily produces winter wheat and sunflower.

Sergiy says the safety of employees is the priority. The operation also paid its employees ahead of time to retain them and help secure food.

“When we were attacked, we decided to pay salaries a bit earlier than usual. We paid out one salary as financial aid in the beginning of March,” says Sergiy.

This operation has roughly 30% of its sunflower seed offsite in warehouses. Farm managers are trying to negotiate with suppliers how to receive it.

If this war ends by June 1, roughly 25-30% of wheat will be lost and nearly 50% of sunflowers will be lost in his area due to planting late. Some of those acres lost to sunflower could be planted with corn or soybeans.

Difficult to plan harvest, planting

Tetiana, a manager of corporate farms equaling roughly 312,000 acres, says the majority of her territory is in the combat areas. She explains it’s very difficult to plan wheat harvest and corn and sunflower planting.

According to Tetiana, some of the warehouses where they keep fertilizer and seed are lost.

“My opinion is we will lose about 40% of the [wheat] yield [in my territory] because we won’t be able to carry out certain operations,” says Tetiana.

Tetiana says she’s paid for salaries, inputs and machinery. The machinery will most likely not be delivered to Ukraine before the planting season starts.

The farms also wanted to get pre-paid fuel, but most likely, those contracts will not get filled because the supplier is having problems getting the fuel.

Seed production for 2023 is also in question for her area. “500 hectares [of this operation] are dedicated to seed [production],” says Tetiana. “It’s in an area being shelled.”

Next few weeks

There are numerous unknowns during this important time of the growing season.

In a previous interview, Elena says, “[Everything] going on now in Ukraine will have impact on future. Everything, because it’s a new page of history, not just for Ukraine or Russia, but all over the world.”

Yet, Ukrainians are resilient. They are trying to plant and harvest as their country and livelihood depends on it.

Betsy Jibben is the media director for AgMarket Consulting (associated with AgMarket.Net).

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About the Author(s)

Betsy Jibben

Media Director, AgMarket Consulting

Betsy Jibben is the media director for AgMarket Consulting (associated with AgMarket.Net). She joins the company with a decade of reporting experience. Jibben spent nearly seven years with Farm Journal as a national reporter for the TV shows “AgDay” and “U.S. Farm Report,” where she traveled across the country and reported on different agricultural topics. 

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