One week after Russia launched a large-scale military invasion of Ukraine, the United Nations estimates that more than one million people have fled the Eastern European country.
As the war continues to escalate after the Feb. 24 attack, one segment of the Ukrainian population has found that the decision to flee isn’t that easy.
Despite the dangers posed by constant shelling and destruction, the country’s dairy farmers have largely remained on their farms and the threat of a Russian attack isn’t enough to sway them to leave, according to Taras Vysotsky, deputy minister for development of economy, trade and agriculture of Ukraine.
“In most cases, they’re on the farms. Only a few have been abandoned so far,” Vysotsky said during a phone interview with Lancaster Farming. “They’re staying on their farms. They’re going to protect it. They will fight for their farms and their animals to the end.”
The dairy sector is the number two agriculture industry in Ukraine, second behind grain and oilseed production. Vysotsky said agriculture accounts for 20% of the nation’s GDP.
Keeping the industry intact during a war, however, is difficult — especially when it comes to dairy.
Vysotsky said it’s going to cost billions of dollars to rebuild the nation’s infrastructure after just one week of war, and that figure will rise as the fighting continues. Included in the damage is the nation’s once-vibrant dairy industry, even as farmers remain behind to manage their operations. Supply chains have been severely impacted, he said, and raw milk sold from farms has been cut by 50%.
Vysotsky said in many cases, processors can’t come to farms to pick up milk, nor can they stock it for consumers. As a result, the volume of milk being sold and processed has been greatly reduced.
“As for now, lots of farmers… they keep their cattle but they can’t sell raw milk,” he said.
In recent years, Ukraine has been a net exporter of dairy — mainly dry milk and butter — but that component has been diminished as well. According to Vysotsky, there were no exports of dairy products during the last week, and he cautioned the situation could cause shortages and price increases on the global dairy market.
But for now, during the perils of war, Ukraine’s dairy farms remain operational even though the long-term outlook is grim.
Currently, the dairies have enough feed, mainly silage, already stockpiled from last year’s harvest to continue feeding cows, Vysotsky said. He added that dairy farms have enough veterinary supplies on hand for now.
“It’s not critical right now, but if the situation continues, in 10 days it can become critical with a serious shortage of veterinary medicines on farms,” Vysotsky said.
Compounding the matter is the approaching planting season, which Vysotsky said will begin in a few weeks. As of now, he added, there isn’t enough supplies of seeds and pesticides for planting, and it can severely limit a farmer’s ability to replenish feed stockpiles for the following year. Even the upcoming winter wheat harvest will be compromised if the war continues, Vysotsky said.
“It’s possible to manage it if the war ends today or tomorrow. If the war is going on for two or three more weeks, then there will be a risk if they can’t plant so much this spring,” he said.
Despite the current crisis and the uncertain outlook, Vysotsky said the Ukrainian government remains committed to saving the country’s agriculture industry, especially dairy. Aid will be needed in terms of money, veterinary medicine and other supplies necessary to operate a dairy farm, he added, but the nation’s farmers aren’t giving up.
“Our main goal is to save the cows and calves, save the cattle,” Vysotsky said. “In the current conditions when the farmers can’t sell the milk but still have to keep feeding the cattle, we’re going to need support to keep the cattle healthy and in good condition.
“It’s going to be a big task because so much has been destroyed.”
Source: Lancaster Farming