The Polish government’s decision to end its embargo on the transportation of Ukrainian grain provides little solace for Volodymyr Bondaruk. He thinks the Polish contract will ever be renewed after it was already lost by his mixed dairy and arable farm in western Ukraine.
The 54-year-old executive director of his farm, named Pearl of Podillia after the nearby community, is unsure how the new system agreed upon with Poland – which would permit Ukrainian grain and other commodities to cross the country to export markets – will operate.
He expects more expense and more hassle fulfilling the terms of the agreement, under which each consignment must be tracked by an electronic monitoring system and sealed.
Bondaruk is already struggling to find markets for the wheat, rapeseed, oilseed, corn and sugarbeet produced on his 10-hectare farm in western Ukraine’s agricultural belt.
Russia’s war with Ukraine has all but cut off his access to markets in the Middle East and Africa, and he fears Kyiv’s “friends and neighbours” in Europe are trying to curtail the few remaining routes he has to find buyers.
“We do not know what the process will be, how it will work and what will work,” Bondaruk told Reuters in one of his fields after showing the silos where his grain stocks are piling up on top of last year’s harvest.
“This will enable large and medium agricultural holdings to sell their products but it will be very difficult for small farmers.”
He said the new system might mean he has to pay a fee before the goods reach their destination – a difficult prospect with affordable credit deals in Ukraine in short supply.
Bondaruk, who has worked in agriculture since 1993, two years after Ukraine won independence from Moscow, said he had lost a contract to sell wheat to Poland and had to return money to the company involved. He is now selling that wheat at a cut-down price on the domestic market.
Poland and other European Union member states in eastern Europe have imposed import bans to protect their markets from an influx of cheaper Ukrainian supply. Warsaw also initially banned their transit but eased restrictions after talks.
With uncertainty growing over the future of a Black Sea Grain Initiative that allows safe grain exports from three ports in southern Ukraine, Bondaruk said the outlook for exports appeared increasingly bleak.
He called for European help for Ukrainian farmers seeking to export grain, saying that he, unlike “some in Europe”, did not want subsidies, just an even playing field.
For now, he will rely on milk production, saying one dairy cow can earn as much as cultivating two hectares of arable land.
And he will wait for the end of the war, which has already seen more than 50 of his workers heading off to fight.
“We will survive, we are the people who survived a lot,” he said. “I think these times will pass and there will be a victory … Everything will be good. We will have bread.”