Ucrania: Large Scale Potato Growing in Ukraine
Interview of Willem Nammensma, Head of Potato Development Continental Farmers Group - one of the largest potato company in Ukraine with total area under potato 1.9 thousand hectares.
Willem, for many years your company is an example that the large scale potato business in Ukraine is not the exception, but the norm. What are the advantages and disadvantages of growing potato in such a large scale?
- Large farms approach cultivation professionally and fundamentally, invest considerably in equipment and storages. In addition, the use of large volumes on all resourses on large areas is economically more profitable and sustainable. Processing companies are also more willing to cooperate with holdings. Although this does not mean that smaller farms cannot be competitive.
Willem Nammensma and CFG potato storage
- On what principles is the company’s potato policy is based?
- The area under potatoes grown by Continental Farmers Group is formed taking into account crop rotation, availability of storage facilities, as well as the market situation. In recent years, the area under potato has increased due to increased demand, as well as the contracts with our partners with fixed price and volume of products.
The fresh potato market is quite stable and requires more investment in added value than in additional production volumes. Potato storages are becoming increasingly important due to the demand for products throughout almost the whole year. Old buildings do not meet the requirements for long-term storage. That is why this year we put into operation the new storage in the village Chukva, Lviv region. This is a modern storage facility with ventilation, cooling, humidification and washing capacity. This will allow us to store potato for 10 months.
- The Western regions of Ukraine are considered the most suitable for potato growing. However the selection of potato varieties is an important issue. Are there any favorite varieties that you have been growing for years, or are you trying different varieties at once?
- Our choice depends on the purpose. For processing, for example, the choice in Ukraine is limited and depends on the list of the varieties required by the processor. In addition, we have a delivery schedule. Every month we have to provide processing factories with a certain volume of product that is expected of us. We also do not use varieties that are not added to the official list of varieties in Ukraine.
For chips potato varoeties, the key factor is the stability of the sugar level. For example, Arsenal from Agrico is a high-yielding variety of the chips group, but it unfortunately changes the sugar level during long-term storage. That is why we grow Arsenal only to the extent that we can sell it by the end of December. Lady Claire from Meijer, on the other hand, has a stable sugar level until the end of June. But this is a very delicate variety, which primarily needs irrigation during cultivation. Since we grow without irrigation we grow Lady Claire in volumes to ensure sales till May-June.
Other factors are decisive for fresh market potato. In this category we grow early and very early varieties such as Colombia (HZPC) and Riviera (Agrico). Customers like them, but they are not ideal for long-term storage. Melody variety from Meijer meets this requirement. We mostly grow it.
Seed potatoes are directly related to fresh market potato varieties and potato for processing, as well as to companies with which we have concluded contracts for the supply of seeds in accordance with one-year or two-year seed propagation schedule. These companies supply us with a certain variety, and we grow seeds for them.
At the same time, we test new varieties and determine whether they are suitable for our conditions. If so, we include them to our seed production schedule.
Potato Field CFG
- How does crop rotation take place? What crops are the best for potato crop rotation?
- Winter wheat is an ideal precursor, as it provides a good soil structure and also gives time to prepare the field for winter. Barley is less recommended because of the possible problems with rhizoctonia. Spring crops, such as soybeans, are also good options, but they require longer and drier autumn. Maize and sunflower is not recommended because of the late harvest.
- What technology do you use during planting?
- We grow potato in three different locations. They all have different soil types, different field layouts and different weather conditions. In Lviv region, we plant potato using system “all at once” – we cultivate soil, plant potato and form ridges at once. Soils in the Ternopil region are heavier, viscous, and difficult to cultivate. We cut the ridges before winter. In winter, under the influence of low temperatures, a system of capillaries is formed in the soil, and its structure improves. This allows us to retain moisture. In spring we plant potato in these ridges without any other soil preparation. Three weeks after planting, we increase ridges to have a sufficient amount of soil on top of planted potato.
In our third location, near the Chukva village (Lviv region), we are just looking for the most efficient system. In spring 2021 we carried out everything separately: soil preparation, planting and hilling. The results are good, but for this system we needed more qualified staff and equipment.
- How was this year’s planting? What weather conditions affected it?
- It was a very good winter, a lot of snow, which had a positive effect on the moisture content in the soil, but at the same time it delayed the start of field work. We started planting in early April, during good, warm days. However, shortly after the rain started, so we were forced to continue in between rains. In the end, we managed to complete the work on time. The ideal planting period lasts about 14 days. Late planting can cause a significant reduction in yield.
- Do you observe climate change in your region?
- It is impossible to say that no. Extreme conditions occur more often. We observe higher temperatures in summer and more rain in shorter periods of time.
- Do you grow potato without irrigation?
- Yes, we grow without irrigation. This is not a problem for seed and table potato. Only chips varieties are sensitive to drought. It is the amount of precipitation that has influenced our choice of the region where we grow potato: compared to the rest of Ukraine, in the Western Regions of Ukraine the annual rainfall is higher.
- How do you develop a map of crop fertigation and protection?
- It is based on best practices and personal experience. Of course, it is difficult to come tot he solution based on one year of trials, but in combination with international recommendations, we usually find the right solution.
Willem Nammensma in the field
- What brands of machinery do you use on the farm?
- We use Grimme field machinery and equipment for storage. Ventilation units are supplied to us by Omninvent, Tolsma, Mooij and Agrovent, packaging equipment - Manter and Jasa. Verbruggen makes a machine that we use for stacking products on pallets, Horsch, Lemken, Gregoire Besson and others supply machinery for soil preparation and fertigation. Spraying is mainly done by Amazone machinery.
- What is the yield of different potatoes varieties? What influences it the most?
- We are now talking about net volumes at the time of realization. For fresh market potatoes it is 37–45 t / ha, for chips - 30 t / ha. This is the yeild without irrigation. As for the factors that affect the yield, it is, of course, the weather and the quality of seed potato.
- Do you use IT-solutions in the potato production?
- We use a field management system like Cropio. It helps to collect data during the season and uses information from past years and crops grown in the fields before. In addition, we use our own IT system to collect data on field work. In addition, we use GPS tracking and video surveillance at storage and packaging facilities.
- When does the harvest start?
- In early August, we start harvesting table potato and early seed potato. In the second half of August we harvest early chips verieties. From the beginning of September to the middle of October - the most intense period, because we harvest all the rest varietes.
We store all seed and chips potato in our storages. Approximately 20% of table potato is sold during the harvest period, and the rest is stored and sold in winter.
- Do you think potato business is promising in Ukraine?
- Potato is considered the second bread of Ukraine. However, markets are changing and we need to adapt to this. Under good circumstances, potato growing is highly profitable business and provide a constant flow of money through a reduced delivery schedule. However, it also requires large investments due to the need to invest in equipment and storage. Along with all financial investments, the most important investment is employees. To ensure the quality of potatoes, they need close attention and professionalism.
- Who are your customers?
- We grow seed potatoes for various companies, such as Agrico, HZPC, Norika, Solana, Europlant and Snack Production (Chips Club). We have product sales agreements with most of them. We sell chips potato to two companies - Snack Production (Chipster Club) and PepsiCo (Lays). Both are located in Ukraine.
- Do you grow potatoes for export?
- There are some uncertainties regarding exports due to phytosanitary rules, as well as political agreements and restrictions. The complexity of the situation is that Ukraine cannot export to the EU, while the EU can export to Ukraine. I hope this will change in the coming years.
Due to COVID-19, most European countries had a surplus of potato on the market, especially French fries varieties. This resulted in reducing market price and, of course, affected the price of potato on Ukrainian market, especially potato for frech market.
- What is your opinion about state programs to support the development of potato sector?
- A support program is always good. Three- to five-year EU-funded support programs have been in place in Poland, Romania, the Czech Republic and other EU countries. They are a quick way to build the market, to stabilize prices. However, no program alone is able to build a long-term business, because the basis of a successful business, regardless of its scale, is knowledge, perseverance, partnership and professionalism.