Saturday, 10 November 2012

Ukraine and Europe

A much anticipated stop, I had to get to the Ukraine to see what all the fuss was about! An early departure from Heathrow, meant a very early start for me. There were a few early flights to Eastern Europe, evidenced by the fact that the bars in the terminal were doing good business selling beer at a little after 5:30am! Boarding the Ukraine International Airlines flight in Vienna, I was relieved to see that the plane was at least reasonably modern, and the staff excellent. Landing at Odessa, however I wondered if my confidence had peaked too early as we touched down onto a runway an Ag pilot would find bumpy. At the half way point a mound nearly caused us to lose contact with the ground again, must help with take off though...
I look forward to comparing notes with scholars from the third GFP, as I saw only a tiny glimpse of the vast country, however I was fortunate enough to spend time in one place, so may have gained a different impression. My host was working for a group that had invested money in agriculture there for some time, however due to some agronomic issues have been unable to capitalise on the potential that exists. Current agronomic management is well on track to solving the problems, and the rewards should flow at the next harvest and beyond.
I was staying in Mykolayiv, a little over an hour east of Odessa. A closed city during the Soviet era, it was a large naval and ship building port. It must have been a centre of design and innovation, the relics in the form of slip ways and ship yards line the river, however the once planned and orderly laid out city needs some serious injection of funds. Unfortunately the financial crisis has halted that, and abandoned building sites are common. One can only imagine the sense of bewilderment felt by the population when the former regime left a little over 20 years ago.
Having said that, there was a form of charm in the city centre, it had a small town feel despite the population of around 500,000 people, and I felt safe in the main pedestrian mall late at night, and alone. Trees line both sides of many of the wide streets, and if you ignore the potholes, the cracked and uneven footpaths, and negotiate your way around missing man hole covers there is majesty in some of the older architecture. There is not much pre dating ww2, much of the country must have been annihilated during the conflict on the eastern front.
In the south of the country, the rainfall is quite low, despite this, a Western European farming model was adopted and is largely still maintained today. Land is ploughed, either with mould board ploughs or offset discs to a depth exceeding 200mm, then cultivated many times prior to planting. Despite that, many weeds survive and the use of knockdown herbicides and in crop weed control is not widespread, further depleting the precious moisture supply. Snow capture is an important water source as well, and the lack of stubble cover reduces the depth retained.
The adoption of moisture conservation and good weed control will make a significant difference to production, if the issues are similar across the country, it is easy to see why the Black Sea area will be a major player in international grain trading.

The following photos, the first, a wheat crop around 20 days old, the second a frowning Starlin, what would he be thinking!? The third, a typical soviet era grain store on a collective, and finally a glimpse of the country side.

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