Prime minister reports expectations of substandard fall harvest in Ukraine
by Roman Woronowycz
Kyiv Press Bureau
KYIV - Ukraine's Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych disclosed on June 14 that Ukraine's fall harvest could be dismal this year after much of the grain crop in the country's southern, eastern and central regions was damaged by a late spring drought that followed early spring frosts.
"This is the worst weather for crop growth we have had in the last 10 years," explained Mr. Yanukovych, during a special teleconference with oblast leaders that focused on problems in Ukraine's agricultural sector.
The State Statistics Committee confirmed that 65 percent of planted fields in the southern, eastern and central oblasts of Ukraine were destroyed by bad weather, according to Interfax-Ukraine.
Prime Minster Yanukovych said the government "has full control of the situation" and had increased budget outlays to the agricultural sector, including full repayment of debts owed agricultural producers from last year's harvest.
Minister of Agriculture Serhii Ryzhuk, speaking during a separate meeting, said Ukraine expects to harvest only 25 million to 27 million tons of grain this year - far below last year's record yield of 38.8 million tons. He said the government expects to import a minimum of 1.5 million tons and as much as 2.5 million tons to meet any shortfalls that might occur in the domestic market after export agreements are met. He also held out hope that rain in the next few days could save some of the crop.
Mr. Ryzhuk said he agreed with a proposal made by grain traders that import duty and value-added taxes on grain imports should be temporarily lifted.
Less than ideal weather conditions in the last three months in Ukraine have led to thousands of hectares of underdeveloped wheat, corn, rye and barley in the agriculturally vital Dnipropetrovsk, Zaporizhia, Kherson, Odesa and Vinnytsia oblasts of the country. Ukraine's winter this year extended well into April with nighttime temperatures dipping below the freezing mark through the middle of the month, which affected the spring wheat crop. Warm weather finally arrived in late April, but it quickly turned hot with the country experiencing temperatures in the mid- and upper 80s through much of May. What has made the situation critical, however, is that practically no rain has fallen since the beginning of May, with the exception of short afternoon cloudbursts on some days in some regions.
To alleviate possible shortages and ensure sufficient supplies in the bread-producing sector of Ukraine's economy, Prime Minister Yanukovych said the government would purchase grain on the open market and resell it at prices advantageous to bread producers.
He said the government would make every effort to guarantee that all agricultural enterprises have seed stocks for the fall planting and announced that he had established a program of "seed credits" for affected farms, which would allow them to take loans from commercial banks and purchase seed at a 15 percent government-subsidized discount, effectively neutralizing interest payments on the loans.
"In this situation I put the onus on the regions - under the direct responsibility of the heads of the oblast state administrations - to organize the seeding of the winter crop as planned to secure food provisions for the state in 2004-2005," stated the prime minister.
Mr. Yanukovych also announced that the government would subsidize animal husbandry by adding 1.5 hrv to the purchase of every kilogram of live animal stock sold at market. He called the subsidy "palpable support for the enterprise and the village household," and encouraged local village and regional leaders to widely publicize the aid so that it would be "maximally utilized."
Mr. Yanukovych told the regional leaders to monitor the price of grain this summer and fall, including seed for planting, to ensure that sharp increases and speculative bidding do not occur. He said similar oversight is needed over bread prices.
"The fate of the village and the security of food provision for the state depend on our common effort," Mr. Yanukovych told the oblast leaders.
Copyright © The Ukrainian Weekly, June 22, 2003, No. 25, Vol. LXXI
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