Ukraine farming faces uncertainty as Russia invades

Kornelis Keese Huizinga, Ukraine, March 2, 2022

Russian forces attack the Ukraine capital Kyiv. Photo: Lesia Vasylenko, Ukraine MP

WHEN I became a farmer, I knew that I’d have to wage a figurative war on the traditional foes of food production: pests, weeds, and disease.

I didn’t expect to find myself in an actual war zone with a lethal enemy.

Yet that’s what happened when Russia invaded Ukraine, the place where I grow crops and raise livestock.

My family and I live and farm close to the centre of the country, a bit north of the city of Uman, a specific target of Russian assaults because of its ammunition depots. As the bombs dropped on Thursday, the windows and doors of my house rattled. We saw smoke rise in the distance. We heard the roar of rockets overhead.

My wife and kids have fled our farm, seeking safety near the border with Romania. I’ve stayed behind on the farm. They already made it into Romania and are staying at a friend’s place.

As I write, things are quiet. I don’t expect them to remain that way. The violence could erupt again at any moment. At the moment of this correction there are some explosions in Uman.

This is my plea, from a humble farmer in Ukraine to the people of the world: Please ask your governments to stop this reckless war, launched by that cruel and power-hungry authoritarian, Vladimir Putin.

Ukraine did nothing to deserve this fate. Since the end of the Cold War and the breakup of the Soviet Union, we have strived to live in peace and harmony with the wider community of nations. We have sought to develop a civilised democracy. Although we have a long way to go, we have made big progress.

I’ve tried to do my part. As a farmer, of course, I’m far removed from the halls of power. I don’t practice statesmanship or conduct diplomacy.

In an agricultural nation like Ukraine, however, my job is to feed my country and the world.

On our farm, we milk 2000 dairy cows every day. In our fields we grow wheat, barley, canola, and more. It may be winter, but the fertilising season has started, as we apply nitrogen to our fields. Planting usually begins by the end of March or the beginning of April.

I don’t know if any of this will be possible this year. I don’t know what the next hour holds for us, let alone tomorrow or next week or next month.

I’m already wondering how we’ll feed our cows. We have food on hand, but we may have to weaken our feed ratio so that our supplies last longer. This will lower our output.

The future may be uncertain, but I know this much: If Ukrainian farmers like me can’t get to work, our crisis will become unbearably worse.

We’re resilient, and we know how to get through hard times, such as droughts and other weather challenges. Like the rest of the world, we’re now emerging from a pandemic that disrupted labor markets and supply chains.

Yet war poses a unique threat. Reports about casualties are pouring in. The deaths could soar as Russians drive their tanks into our cities. The military conflict will shatter the lives of ordinary citizens. The messages I get from other farmers in the east and south are that the Russians drive around the bigger cities or encircle them.

We’re likely to face a humanitarian crisis as people flee the destruction. Refugees will need shelter and food. There’s no guarantee they’ll get it. First primitive refugee camps on the western borders are being set up at the moment of writing.

History warns us about one horrible possibility. In the 1930s, Ukraine suffered from the Holodomor, which in the Ukrainian language means “death by hunger”. Back then, Soviet ruler Joseph Stalin tried to crush an independence movement by inflicting a manmade famine on Ukraine. Millions died in what today many people regard as act of genocide.

Nobody in Ukraine ever should starve. We are an agricultural breadbasket. We have more arable land than any other European country. We are the world’s top exporter of sunflower and sunflower oil. We are the world’s second largest producer of barley, its third largest producer of corn, and a global leader as a producer of potatoes.

Ukraine can meet the food needs of 600 million people, according to one estimate. That’s pretty good for a nation of 44 million people and about 35,000 farms.

If we drop out of the global market, food prices will rise everywhere. Price inflation is already hurting ordinary consumers around the world, but now it will worsen.

This means that Russia’s unprovoked war on Ukraine is not only Ukraine’s problem. It’s a threat to everyone on the planet. Russia has attacked us all.

Will you stand with Ukraine in our moment of need?


Kornelis “Kees” Huizinga has farmed in Mankivka Rayon, Cherkasy Oblast in central Ukraine for 20 years. The operation grows onions, carrots, wheat, barley, canola, sugar beets, corn, sunflowers and navy beans and has a modern dairy farm. He is a member of the Global Farmer Network. This article was originally published on the Global Farmer Network website and is republished here with permission. To view the original article click here.

Video interview with Mr Huizinga recorded on Tuesday, March 1:


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  1. diana dunlop, March 4, 2022

    Our thoughts are with you Kees Huizinga, and your country. I agree, war is unnecessary in the 21st century. If leaders can’t avoid war then they shouldn’t be in power. We are living in a different world where we, the people of the world actually like each other and get on. We have similar understandings, and appreciation of how to live on this planet. I wish there was more we could all do for Ukraine right now.

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