Russian agriculture waiting to be unleashed
Russian agriculture production has been a decade of slow but steady progress, but the country continues to import more and more food. The concept of food independence dominates government policy, not a policy of food security, although the difference might seem like splitting hairs to many.
Professor Pavel Sorokin, Moscow State Agroengineering University, provided target goals that the government has established. Sorokin spoke by satellite to attendees of the recent Kansas State University Master of Agribusiness professional development conference on “Energy, Global Food Security and Ag Policy.”
“Food security doctrine establishes the following minimum targets as the share of domestic production in the total supply of commodities,” Sorokin explained. The targets are 95 percent grain, 80 percent sugar, 80 percent vegetable oils, 85 percent meat and meat products, 90 percent milk and dairy products, 80 percent fish products and 95 percent potatoes.
Russia’s approach to food security prevents “uncontrolled dissemination of GMO crops” and “no support for using food crops for biofuel production."
The Russian production targets are very ambitious, Sorokin said. But they should not be seen as unachievable if acceptance of technology can be implemented. It will be a drastic change from the present situation because minimal practices, such as use of commercial fertilizer, cannot even be afforded by a large number of farmers. No fertilizer was applied to 56 percent of the farm land in 2008.
But fertilizer is available within the country and economics might turn things around at some point, especially if the government could provide minimal safety nets to farmer production.
Russia produces 10 percent of the world’s fertilizer production, partly because of vast reserves of natural gas to produce low-cost nitrogen fertilizer.
Additional natural advantages include what Sorokin refers to as “chernozem,” or black soils. The country contains 52 percent of that highest quality soil known in the world, according to the professor. Russia also has 20 percent of the world’s fresh water resources.
At some point, Russia could put an additional one billion acres of unused agricultural lands into production.
Major concerns about production and marketing include post-harvest losses and a poor infrastructure for delivery of crops to markets. “Infrastructure in agricultural areas is not sufficient for efficient production,” Sorokin said.
Even though there is a lot of positivity for Russia to meet its agricultural potential by 2050 when the world population has surpassed nine billion people, success is far off. At the moment, Russia is not able to participate to any degree in feeding those outside its borders. On average, 55 percent of Russian family expenses are for food.