Frontier Tour Initial Impressions

Published on: 18:20PM Jul 24, 2008
I just arrived back in the United States from the 10 day Top Producer Frontier Study tour in Europe. We visited Brussels and talked with key lobbyists and farm organizaitons for the European Union in the trip that was sponsored by the United Soybean Board. After two days there we headed to Ukraine where we visited farms and saw first hand the development taking place in his former Soviet state.

My observation is there is tremendous opportunity with both parts of the trip. USB Director Russ Carpenter had a lengthy discussion with a project manager from the European Biodiesel Board and she needs help selling biodiesel in Europe. Russ believes there are some numbers from USB that can help them with their debate. Also, the message we got from others is that they are very concerned about their livestock feeders. It seems they have many of the same issues we have. They really want soybean meal from the U.S., but they don’t want to have meal from GMO soybeans.

In Ukraine there is opportunity for their farmers, but also there could be some opportunity for our producers to supply products to them in the future. There is a heavy emphasis on dairy production in Ukraine and there is a growing interest among many producers to increase beef production. The pasture resources and land is certainly there, there just hasn’t been an emphasis put on this.
Ukraine represents a real threat to U.S. producers if they can ever get their agronomic practices straightened out. Many of the fields we visited proved there is a definite lag in equipment technology and agronomic knowledge. The majority of the farmers we talked with could not tell us their annual rainfall. The final farm we visited on Wednesday afternoon was a progressive, leading-edge farm for Ukraine and it had incredible equipment technology—including a twin-tank anhydrous ammonia trailer that holds 4,800 pounds of nitrogen. Talk about being able to be efficient. (And yes, it’s heavy and the DOT would have a fit if it were used here in the U.S. But that’s where bribes and government corruption can come in handy in Ukraine.)
While the farmers on the trip were amazed at the technology and the size of the equipment on this farm, they were also appalled by the lack of efficiency in the technology’s use. We visited a barley field where they were getting incredible yields of 88 bushels to the acre with nine combines. However, at one point there were three combines sitting full but idle for more than one hour—they were idle when we arrived and they were idle when we left. Grain trucks also sat still across the field as farm workers stood around watching the trucks and combines in inaction. The U.S. farmers could hardly stand it, but that’s the way it is right now in Ukraine.
This speaks to the issues Ukraine will have in the future as they continue to struggle with moving past communism. There is opportunity there for sure and the technology is there to make it happen, but it’s a risk. Government corruption, poor work ethic and weak management will hold the country back. But then again, it’s only been 17 years since Ukraine gained its independence and they are still working to shed the legacy and mentality of communism.