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Rise of Russian family farms raises grain and meat production

The Western Producer, 22.11.13

Improved efficiency is boosting country’s exports

Russian meat production has been leaping ahead by double-digit annual increases since 2005, but that won’t crimp the country’s ability to export more grain, says a Russian grain expert.

Feed conversion rate improvements and per acre crop production gains will allow meat and export grain production to increase at the same time.

“We fed a lot of grains and oilseeds to our animals (during the communist period),” said Dmitri Rylko of IKAR, the leading Russian grain analysis agency, who spoke at Cereals North America in Winnipeg Nov. 6.

“In the Soviet Union it was huge because it was a very inefficient industry.”

Russia has lost millions of acres of farmland and tens of millions of head of annual livestock production since the fall of the communist political system and the ensuing economic crisis.

However, per acre yields and feed conversion rates are soaring as the Russian farm economy restructures from the inefficient collective farm system. Individual family farms, like those that dominate North America, are taking over land from former collective farms, as are large corporate farms. 

“These new guys come with very efficient operations and have the same conversion rates as western colleagues,” said Rylko. “It economizes a lot on consumption.”

Russian, Ukrainian and Kazakh farmers have become major players in world export grain trade in recent years as more sensible industrial and business development replaces communist waste and post-Soviet chaos.

Rylko said on-farm production gains, world-class port facilities and general export system improvements are changing the system.

A weak point is the monopolies operated by former state-owned railways, which Rylko said the government should not have allowed.

However, grain production in the former Soviet Union is likely to increase as farming continues to move from a communist to a free market system.

Rylko said genetically modified crops are already grown in Russia and Ukraine, without official approval, and this will increase if GM crops are approved.

He said the Russian government quietly agreed recently to allow companies to test and receive approval for GM corn varieties. The Ukraine government immediately mimicked the Russian position.

Countries that were once part of the Soviet Union are export competitors to Canada in Europe, North Africa and the Middle East. These crops are usually lower quality than Canadian and American exports, displacing sales to poor but large customers such as Egypt.

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