The importance of the Ukraine to global agriculture

In the Delta or the Midwest, farmers refer to it as “good dirt” for a reason. Right now, this good, black dirt is in crisis, much like the economy that houses it.

Good Dirt in Ukraine

Good Dirt in Ukraine

Those in the know are watching the Ukraine in the short term and in the long term. Russia’s movement into Ukraine complicates the matter.

What plays out could have an effect on grain prices in the short-term.  In the long-term, given investments of scale, Ukraine will become the “world’s breadbasket,” something akin to what Saudi Arabia is to oil. That was the take last year before the current events took center stage. Find a good piece on the situation at

The back story is the looming population boom.

The ownership structure of Ukrainian agriculture is in the midst of recovery, transformation and change. At a forum last year, one of the presentations was titled, “Ukraine: Changing course toward a European future.” That explains a lot about the current tense situation between Russia and the West.

The key will be whether the Ukraine gets the investment it needs to ramp up production and become an important player in global food security, and whether the current crisis fades.

The value of Ukraine’s agricultural exports rose in 2012 to $17 billion, a 40% increase over the previous year.

The claims that the Ukraine will become the “world’s breadbasket” perk up ears and even elicit criticism of “propaganda enthusiasm” when the Ukraine prime minister voiced them. At the crux of the argument is the claim of a billionaire Ukrainian politician and entrepreneur named Oleg Bakhmatiuk. He believes the “breadbasket” claim will become reality when Ukrainian exports reach $40 billion. In published reports, Bakhmatiuk sees the Ukraine producing 100-120 million tons of grain and 9-10million tons of meat in the next five to seven years. To do that would require a significant increase of 20% in ag exports and require significant investments of scale from China and the U.S. to transform the Ukraine into the “food-producing Saudi Arabia.”

To realize that goal, however, the Ukraine will need steady and consistent investment from the U.S.



Make ’em think it is their idea.

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It’s funny. I didn’t remember the calf being this unruly or unattractive.

As a youngster, my daddy took me to the sale barn with the intention of buying a calf. I was to raise it and then sell it. Other than an enduring lesson, I have long since forgotten what the calf funded in my life.

I sat, watched and listened as the auctioneer extolled the virtues of the animals being trotted around the pen. I recall just before raising my hand to signal a bid looking dreamily at a black calf like I’d become entranced with the sight of a pretty girl. I’m certain that in the moment I forgot everything I had learned in FFA and on being around cattle most of my life.

“Sold,” I heard.

We made preparations to take the calf back home, loading it up in the trailer of the family friend and well-respected Sand Mountain cattleman who had accompanied us to the sale.

I’ll never forget him. His name was Andrew Stiefel. He’s long-since passed away, except for his reputation of knowing how to handle cattle and people.

Once we unloaded the calf in our pasture, my real work began. The calf was scrawny.

I was charged with providing the calf with feed to supplement its diet of fescue pasture. I spent a large amount of my time trying to get the calf back in the pasture following its numerous escapes. When we caught up with him, the calf had a tendency to lie down and refuse to budge.

One particular occasion we had to build a makeshift sled to scoot the calf back to the pasture down the dirt road to the pasture. The scenario continued throughout the calf’s life in our pasture.

Several months later, however, the calf’s coat was shining like I had sprayed it with WD-40. But he was still just as unruly as ever. I had done a good job of feeding him, as evidence by his good health, but  …

The time came for his return trip to the sale barn. So, we called up Mr. Stiefel for a return visit.

When he arrived at our place, the calf was at the back of the pasture. With a cane, he walked to the fence, went around the calf and grabbed his tail. With one gentle twist, the calf was walking at a slow pace with the “cattle whisperer” following close behind. When the calf stopped to look around, Mr. Stiefel gave another gentle twist to his tale to restart the walk to the gate.

The walk to the trailer took about five minutes to complete, without a hitch or a sled.

The question on my face must have begged an answer because one came without prompting:
“You’ve got to give cattle the idea that what they’re doing is what they want to do and not what you want them to do. They’re a lot like people sometimes. They’re social animals. To get them where you want them to go, sometimes you have to make them think it’s their idea.”

The calf walked up the chute into the trailer and on to the sale barn, without a hitch.

I still carry that lesson with me.

You can find excellent methods for handling cattle. Some of them translate well to handling those “unruly” people you may from time to time find in your life as well.

I’d recommend Bob Kinford’s way with cattle through his Website at Or, if you’re of the land-grant-university-minded folks, check out

This way lil Bessy

This way lil Bessy