AS THE war rages on in Ukraine, farmers in the occupied Russian zone are being forced to accommodate their enemies’ military vehicles in sheds and silage pits, according to the General Director of the Ukrainian Agribusiness Club, Roman Slaston.

The farming leader reported that Russians were killing Ukrainians in the occupied area, stealing diesel and commandeering farms to hide war equipment from aerial surveillance.

If there is to be a Ukrainian harvest this autumn, spring work must start by the end of March. Blocked ports and severed supply chains means that the future of Europe’s breadbasket now hangs in the balance.

Speaking to sister title The Scottish Farmer from Vinnytsia in central Ukraine, Roman revealed that determined farmers were re-routing supply chains away from Russia and the Black sea towards their European neighbours.

Farming in the face of unimaginable danger Ukrainians are battling for a successful seeding campaign. “Farmers are tough guys,” said Roman. “We have already managed to do field work spreading fertiliser whilst bombs and missiles were falling on our farms.”

What is your situation today? Are you, your family, and staff safe?

I am okay and safe. My family and staff are also safe. We are lucky, we got out of Kyiv on the first day of the war, we had some difficulties getting out but we are okay now. I am in central Ukraine in the Vinnytsia region.

What is it like for farmers in Ukraine at the moment?

It is very difficult. We have a full scale war with Russia invading from three directions. Our army at the beginning did not admit that there was a risk of an invasion from Belarus, we didn’t think they would do it. We now know that Belarus supports, well at least their leader Lukashenko supports, Putin in his actions. We know not all the Belarussian people support the action and we think their army will not come to Ukraine and join Russia in their war crimes.

What is life like in the Russian occupied areas?

Some of our country is occupied by Russia which makes farming impossible. The Russian army is focused on fighting military battles and they will shoot anyone on their patch. Even inside peoples’ houses. They are angry. Angry about the decisions being made by their top military leaders.

The Russians are also stealing diesel from farms because they have no supplies from Russia. They are also putting their tanks in farm yards to hide them from aerial surveillance. They are putting them in silage pits to protect them. They arrive on farm and demand to hide their vehicles in buildings.

In the occupied territory there is a big problem with animal husbandry, for milking herds. There is no milk collection or milk processors who can work in that region. Supply chains are broken, farmers are having to give their milk away because they can not get it supplied to the processing factory.

How are plans for spring field work developing?

Regarding field work in the south and east of the country, farmers managed to get nitrogen onto crops before war so at the moment the crops are looking okay. In the rest of the country, farmers were able to finish spreading nitrogen during the war.

Now these same farmers are involved in repairing Ukraine’s military vehicles and build anti tank barriers.

Field work starts at the end of March and the beginning of April, this is when we start the seeding campaign for spring crops and application of herbicides. Being able to get onto fields then is going to be critical to deciding if we will have a crop to harvest this year.

The biggest shortage at the moment is diesel. We used to get most of our diesel from Belarus and Russia or through the sea ports. Now all these routes are restricted. It all must come from the EU now. We are working hard to get enough diesel so we can plant our crops. In general we need at least 200,000t of diesel for spring planting.

The seed, pesticide and fertiliser situation is not as critical, we have 50%-60% of our needs for this year, with some farms having 80% of stocks. We still have time to get some nitrogen onto farm for the growing season and we have a good amount of pesticides already.

We hope to stop this war soon. We want it to stop by April 1 too, as that is the deadline for starting the seeding campaign. Not only in Ukraine but in Russia too. Russia also has challenges as so many companies have stopped doing business there. Some grain traders will not buy from Russia, Louis Dreyfus commodities recent stopped. Other companies are continuing but they understand there is a big risk.

These companies who continue to trade with Russia claim it is to help secure global food security. But if we keep the war going that will have a bigger impact on food security. We ask them to take sanctions on Russia to stop the war sooner and we can get back to feeding the world.

How are food stocks holding up in Ukraine?

The first few days logistics in the country broke down and supplies could not move, but we are rebuilding now and able to transport goods around the unoccupied areas of the country. Every farm has taken some of their stock of wheat, sugar and sunflower oil and given it to the army and to cities for free to people who need it the most.

On February 24, we had stocks of 43million tonnes of grains in the country. This is mainly maize but also wheat, rye, barley and buckwheat. These stocks are distributed across the country in storage. In the west, further away from the fighting, we have the bulk of the maize stocks and in the east, we have the main sunflower seed area.

Ukraine accounts for 50% of the global sunflower oil production. The sunflower processing facilities in the east is a big problem as the war has stopped the plants, but recently I have heard other factories elsewhere in Ukraine have taken up some of the slack.

We are working to rebuild our logistics through exporting over land to Europe as our ports are blocked. We have quite good stocks of wheat, we have enough animal grade wheat to last a year.

Will Ukraine be able to export any cereals this year?

We are planning to export 15m tonnes of maize before harvest this autumn. In January and February we exported 4.5m tonnes per month through our ports, but now we have to use railways to the Baltic sea via Poland or try to export through Romania. We hope to be able to export around 600,000t per month. This is relatively small compared to what went through the sea ports but it is still something.

Russia has already sunk three merchant vessels in Ukraine in the Odessa and Nikolaev – Bangladesh and Estonian ships have been sunk. The Bangladesh ship was bombed and a Bangladeshi man lost his life. It is tragic.

We will be able to export some wheat for milling but it has to be done under license as the Government want to retain enough stocks to feed the country if the war continues. But there is a possibility we will be able to export a big amount of soft wheats for animal feed. There is a ban on exporting other grains such as buck wheat, rye and other niche grains.

But it is very difficult to plan at the moment. Right now we just take it a day at a time, there are so many different scenarios which can play out.

Are you still able to get supplies from Western agricultural companies?

When the war broke out, Western companies were shocked, and the supply chain broke down. But this is now restored. We are in contact with big companies, with seed and pesticide suppliers and we have made a simplification for the procedure to import product.

What is the situation with staff on farm?

Right now there is a lack of people to work on farms. Many workers took up arms and joined the army. Many are in local regional defence units. Some are involved in transport of crucial goods and ammunition and supplies.

We are in communication with the Ministry of Agriculture and the Defence of Ukraine to explain we need a portion of personnel on farm to produce food. We are finding solutions to this by having a list of crucial jobs for production in the coming planting season. But we will still have a lack of people that is for sure.

What is your message to the readers of The Scottish Farmer?

I want to say that Ukraine is doing its best in defence, we will hold our positions and we will hope from support from our Western partners from around the world who share the same democratic values as us.

And we ask also farmers if they are able to support Ukraine somehow, please do. Influence diplomats or politicians or multinational corporations who supply inputs or grain traders to suspend work in Russia temporarily until Putin withdraws troops from Ukraine.

We continue to fight for peace.