GENERICO.ruEconomicsHow Russia can overcome its dependence on seed imports: a farmer gave advice

How Russia can overcome its dependence on seed imports: a farmer gave advice

Igor Abakumov: “There is planting material for the people”

The sowing campaign is just around the corner and then it turns out that there are not enough seeds for planting somewhere. In particular, in the Volgograd and Astrakhan regions, Russian leading regions in vegetable production, there are insufficient volumes of tomato, carrot and onion seeds. Maybe we shouldn’t whip up passions about this? You see, then, in the fall, we find out that Russian farmers have again set a record in production and that everything is “in chocolate” for them. But seeds and import dependence on them are a special case, you see.

Igor Abakumov: “There is planting material for the people

To paraphrase a well-known movie quote, we can say that the Russian village is an industry of contrasts. On the one hand, we export the most grains in the world: self-sufficiency of Russians in grain reaches 167%. Moreover, the seed material here is 100% Russian, we do not depend on anyone.

On the other hand, some of our agricultural records are based solely on the supply of imported seeds. For example, we produce sunflower oil at 195% of domestic needs, and sell the surplus abroad with a clear conscience. However, we only have 25% of our own sunflower seeds, the rest is imported. If there is no planting material, there will be no records.

    Sugar self-sufficiency in the country has been brought to 106%, but imported sugar beet seeds account for almost 97%.

These are not bananas or citrus fruits that we buy for the holidays and, in principle, we can live without. These are everyday products and their prices directly depend on the import of seed material. Meanwhile, foreign deliveries are an expensive pleasure in themselves. And then, due to economic sanctions, there are complex logistics, which, to put it mildly, does not in any way reduce the cost of the goods.

    In a word, the indisputable truth: we need Russian seeds that compete with foreign ones.

Today, the supply of Russian vegetable growing with its own seeds is 63%. But this is the average temperature in the hospital. Even for potatoes, our “second bread”, which in stores today costs 17 rubles per kilogram, it is unclear how many seeds are of domestic selection. Some plant growers say that there are only 9%, others that 30…

This range of numbers is presumably explained by the fact that the domestic arsenal contains many unpatented varieties of foreign selection. They are grown from a test tube and such tubers can also be considered Russian. So, along with them, those same 30% are gained. Even this is still not enough. According to the Food Security Doctrine, adopted in 2020, the share of domestic planting material in seed production should be 75% by 2030 – it is believed that with such a backlog we are not afraid of any sanctions or disruptions in import supplies.

To achieve such results, a state program has been developed in Russia; subprograms are in place for individual crops. Well, they are working, we are squeezing imports, and by 2030 the planned goals will most likely be achieved. Only for potatoes and sugar beets (for the most vulnerable areas) are exceptions made in the state program: by 2030, domestic seed production should be not 75%, as for the main vegetable crops, but 50%.

   Agree that in these conditions it seems premature to limit the import of imported seeds into the country (Rosselkhoznadzor every now and then finds some kind of disease in them). There aren’t enough of our own, and if there are any, they are in small volumes and not of the highest quality – understand the yield.

There is another extreme here. In the fight against “foreignism,” you can follow the beaten track, administrative measures: introducing import quotas and allocating subsidies to those who buy domestic seeds. But there is a danger: in this situation there will be no competition. Why do our seed growers need to improve the characteristics of planting material if they already buy everything?

“Relatively recently, we had import dependence on seeds for almost all crops, except wheat,” says Igor Abakumov, Candidate of Economic Sciences, host of the “Rural Hour” program. – Literally over the last three years we have made significant progress; we have no problems with the availability of planting material for sowing.

There are questions regarding potatoes for large producers, that is, for agricultural holdings. Including for chips, cut fries and baby tubers: small potatoes that are baked in restaurants, they are becoming increasingly in demand.

We have only 30% of our own potato seeds for industrial production, and 70% are imported. It must be admitted that domestic seeds are often inferior in basic characteristics to foreign ones; our breeders do not reach the world level.

But there is planting material “for the people”. For gardeners, private farms, farmers. And large industries are accustomed to imported ones.

– These two categories of manufacturers are antagonists. Agricultural holdings believe that they are the main ones, but according to Rosstat, the opposite picture is obtained. Private owners and personal subsidiary plots grow almost 60% of the tubers.

We will never know the truth. There are no specialized agricultural statistics in Russia. In the USA, such statistics have been collected for more than 150 years, in Europe since 1946. The system works online and transmits information directly from the field.

– A peasant or business owner doesn’t give a damn, determines the wind strength and direction, and makes a decision – how many potatoes to plant this spring: 50 hectares or 70. There is no scientific basis, solid analysts too, that’s why there is a variation in harvests: sometimes it’s thick, sometimes it’s empty.

– We are 100% provided with our own soybean seeds and I would hardly be mistaken if I say that ours are the best in the world. For grains it is also 100%. For corn, only 40%, although I believe that they are capable of covering 100% of internal needs.

Seed institutes and companies are beginning to develop. And the Ministry of Agriculture’s demands for restrictions – I emphasize: they are not about prohibition, no one is talking about that! – import supplies are completely reasonable. Planting material should mainly be your own. And there should be propaganda of seeds of domestic selection.

– Since the 90s of the last century, foreign companies have immediately offered us boxed technology. What it is? Western producers ask: do you want to earn an income of, say, a thousand dollars or more from one hectare? We answer: we want. Then you need to buy their seeds, but in addition to them, you must buy their fertilizers, their herbicides and pesticides, as well as their agricultural equipment for processing the plantations. I call the figures about income per hectare conditional. However, those seeds really guaranteed both the harvest and the quality of the product.

As a result, our large producers fell for foreign supplies. So we now have American tractors, Italian seeders, and German plows included in our seed kits – everything that is part of the cultivation technology.

Our own seed production was put on hold. After all, at one time the young reformers believed that the Russian village was a black hole, “money in the sand,” that it was cheaper to buy chicken legs from America and pasta from Italy.

– “Catching up and overtaking,” as they called for in Khrushchev’s times, will not happen soon. Scientists develop new varieties, they are entered into the register of breeding achievements, and articles are written in a scientific journal. What next? There are no consignments. New varieties are only available in vitro, but when will they reach the field?

World technologies have gone far ahead. Take imported sugar beet seed. It is in a capsule that already contains fertilizers, fertilizing, and plant protection products. In addition – agricultural machinery for processing crops.

– There are objective reasons. In the law “On Seed Production,” which was adopted very quickly, without consultation with farmers, there is not even such a thing as a seed-growing zone. That is, from the field where the seeds of some agricultural crop are grown, there should not be any crops of a similar crop within a distance of 5 kilometers. To avoid cross-pollination of crops: pollen flies about 5 kilometers with the wind.

– In fact, the problem is serious. The land today is private and the owner has the right to plant whatever he wants on it. Pollen from a seed field can end up in a regular field where, say, fodder corn grows, and vice versa.

Seed production in Russia, in fact, can only be carried out by large farms that, in their crop rotation, are able to provide safe conditions for growing planting material. “Small cats”, private traders, immediately fall away from this competitive struggle. Although in the West, where there is also legislation on cross-pollination, they successfully compete with large companies. Major conflicts may soon arise on this basis. Because no one knows who should determine the seed production zone based on natural and climatic conditions: the Ministry of Agriculture, Rosselkhoznadzor, or maybe the State Duma?

– More than. Since the Ministry of Agriculture began to focus on import substitution, domestic seed producers began to increase prices for their products. This is a warning sign. Our seeds are often more expensive than imported ones; over the past three years they have risen in price by up to 40%. This is an average for different crops.

The agricultural department has taken seed research institutes and companies under its roof, they raise prices, taking advantage of this. It is not right. Prices, of course, must rise, otherwise the market will stop. But not at this pace. The ministry must have a “short leash” for its seed farmers and promptly pull them back for such zeal.

– If there is a state need, and there is one, the government should create such preferences so that seed producers run for benefits ahead of their own squeal.

The most important thing for breeders is to simplify the registration of varieties and hybrids. This is a long and complex story; in Russia it dates back to the 30s of the last century, when there were no agronomists and the state administratively indicated where and what to sow. Today, the costs of bureaucratic procedures exceed production costs. Obtaining an analysis for GMOs, obtaining a guarantee certificate for each batch of seeds… all this results in unaffordable sums; this has not happened in the world for a long time.

And for each hectare of seeds sown, the breeders must be paid royalties, that is, bonuses. To invest in new research.

As for seed growers, according to many experts, it is necessary to abolish land and property taxes for them. A separate reclamation program is needed for this industry. A loan at 1% per annum, as was done in the Industrial Development Fund of the Ministry of Industry and Trade. By the way, Turkey has been exporting seeds for 20 years thanks to tax incentives. Why are we worse?

To complete the picture, we give the floor to the practitioner – seed farmer Vladimir Akatiev. Here is his comment:

“We have 30% Russian seeds and 70% imported ones. How to change the situation? The problem can be solved within 3-4 years. There are patented imported seeds of foreign selection. That is, we can propagate them, but we have no right to sell them as seeds without the permission of the copyright holder. And this includes subsidies from the state for seed growers, and the cost of the goods. Seeds, of course, are more expensive than commercial potatoes.

Meanwhile, parallel imports operate in Russia, and a wide range of imported goods are imported. According to this scheme, peasants can grow patented varieties in Russia, so to speak, “in vitro”, replicate them and sell them as elite seeds. There are scientific institutions and the source material for this – in the Moscow region, in Dagestan, and in Siberia.

However, permission from the Russian Agricultural Center and the Ministry of Agriculture is required for these seeds to undergo certification and testing in our country. But while we cannot “push through” such an idea, imported seeds are imported. And they are expensive. If ours cost – depending on the variety and reproduction – 20-40 rubles per kilogram, then foreign ones – 80-100 rubles. Domestic varieties are inferior in quality and yield to imported ones, but not by much. Moreover, they are better adapted to Russian weather conditions. A strict GOST has been established for seeds: 30-55 centimeters in diameter. It’s no longer possible to be smaller or larger.”

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