BY TIMOTHY EGGERT
Whether Ukrainian farmers plant a crop this spring could have far-reaching implications for agricultural operations and markets across the world, including within the United States.
The evolving conflict between Russia and Ukraine, and the stakes for the global ag industry underpinned discussions held Monday between European officials and participants of Illinois Farm Bureau's Market Study Tour.
Pekka Pesonen, the secretary general for COPA-COGECA, the European Union's largest agricultural lobbying group, which represents over 22 million farmers and 22,000 ag cooperatives, was optimistic that Ukraine farmers would plant this spring.
"We believe in the Ukrainians," Pesonen said during a meeting with the MST group.
His positivity comes as Russian military troops have forced Ukrainian farmers to make a choice of livelihoods -- to flee and keep their families safe or to plant and help feed the world.
It also comes as the European Commission on Tuesday was set to release a communication on agriculture and food security in Ukraine, an EU staffer confirmed Monday.
Ukraine is a major producer of grain crops, and together with Russia accounts for 30% of the world's trade in wheat and barley, 17% of corn and 50% of sunflower oil and seeds.
The two countries are also top exporters of fertilizer and the ingredients to produce fertilizer, including potash and phosphate.
Like American farmers, EU producers depend on those fertilizer exports, in addition to Russian natural gas exports.
With the invasion of Ukraine's southern port cities along the Black Sea, exports of all goods have largely ceased. And the EU placed sanctions on Belarusian potash exports last week, narrowing other countries' access to those critical inputs.
That limited access has already translated to boosted input prices in the U.S., while anxieties over the conflict have shaken commodity markets.
Were spring planting in Ukraine to pause, or were fall harvests to fall to Russian control, the EU food-system stands to feel severe economic pain, officials have said.
America's ag industry could be impacted, too, especially if seed production facilities in the region aren't able to operate.
Corteva Agriscience, for instance, owns a seed production center, manages warehouses and employs a few hundred people in the Donbass region, in southeastern Ukraine.
Those facilities have been mothballed amid the invasion, said Macy Merriman, vice president for government affairs and sustainability in Corteva's European division.
Merriman said it's too early to tell if Ukrainian farmers will plant this spring, but added the company is discussing what it can do to ensure those who grow its seeds can continue to do so.
IFB's meetings with EU officials and international ag groups mean staff and leadership can develop strategies to hopefully ensure members aren't deeply impacted by the conflict, said Mark Gebhards, IFB director of governmental affairs and commodities.
"As we've conducted our meetings, it's obvious that as farmers work with farmers they can find solutions to the issues they face, because they are common issues, regardless of cultural differences," Gebhards said.
The IFB group travels to London later this week to meet with USDA foreign agricultural service staff and the National Farmers Union of the United Kingdom.
This story was provided by FarmWeekNow.com.