Written by: Lacie Dotterweich | April 26, 2022
Ukrainian wheat fields turned mine fields and farmers turned soldiers – the implications of these disruptions will be felt in global agriculture for years to come. Recent news coverage has been peppered with stories of Russia’s brutal attacks on Ukrainian citizens, including its efforts to destroy the infrastructure necessary to sustain the Ukrainian people and export agricultural commodities to the global marketplace. While these stories certainly pull at our heartstrings, and as an industry, we are working diligently to head off a looming food crisis, we are also concerned about what the long-term ramifications may be from this war.
Economic, security and business policy experts recently spoke on a webinar, hosted by the American Feed Industry Association, on how the war will affect the global food supply chain and the U.S. animal food industry specifically.
“Even if the war ends today the agriculture industry will face three years of food inflation, largely starting next year,” said Richard Kottmeyer of FTI Consulting, Inc. “It isn’t just the conflict; it’s that agriculture is facing a perfect storm of troubles, then came conflict.”
Fertilizer is the major issue that will become most prevalent next season, as about 50% of the region’s potash (a potassium-rich salt primarily used in fertilizers) didn’t get shipped before the conflict for the next growing season.
“The whole infrastructure of getting product out of the Ukraine and Black Sea is altered, perhaps permanently, if port facilities change ownership,” he said. “We have to face the real likelihood that ports in the Black Sea could be Russian or split and that will affect supply chains.”
Outright physical disruptions present big challenges in getting crops planted, harvested and then shipped out – land mines, especially smart mines, and sea mines will continue to disrupt Ukrainian agriculture for several years and continued conflict will exponentially increase the risk.
“Risks and costs of exporting have increased to levels which as, for all practical purposes, stopped port operations and exports,” Kottmeyer continued. “Who is going to want to send ships in there if you don’t know if you will see that ship again?”
It is believed that right now, about 50% of the Ukrainian wheat production area is in a pretty heavy conflict zone, with roughly 25-30% of the corn crop in a hot conflict zone. In addition, there has been a major labor drop from agriculture and other associated industries, with farmers being pulled into battle and the outpouring of refugees from the country.
“It is very hard to clear mine fields,” said Kottmeyer. “Are you going to want to plant, when your neighbor was mined?”
Despite these challenges, farmers are doing everything they can to plant crops. AgWeb Daily shared a video of farmers in Ukraine wearing bulletproof vests and helmets while driving tractors.
While the situation today and likely for the foreseeable future remains quite grim, I have faith that agriculture around the world, especially our U.S. government, will step up to do what they can for global food security. And when the time is right, we will all help Ukraine rebuild their agriculture system.