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Ukrainian farmers stick to growing winter wheat despite export challenges

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Ukrainian farmers stick to growing winter wheat despite export challenges

Ukrainian farmers are not expected to reduce the area of ​​winter wheat they plant for the 2024 season, despite rising logistical costs due to a wartime export crisis, a senior agricultural official told Reuters on Tuesday.

Ukraine is a major producer of wheat, and the demise of the Black Sea corridor, which was used to safely export grain during the war, has fueled speculation that farmers may grow less wheat as profit margins are squeezed by more expensive export routes.

On Monday, the Ministry of Agriculture cited survey data showing that farmers can actually reduce the area for planting winter wheat, while increasing the area for 2024 winter kale to a record high.

However, First Deputy Agriculture Minister Taras Vysotsky told Reuters on Tuesday that the possible cut in winter wheat could only amount to 0.1%.

“Wheat is not significantly — minus 0.1%,” he said. The estimate has not been previously reported.

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He added that the expected decrease in the total area of ​​winter grain cultivation will come at the expense of other grains, expecting a 5.4% decrease in barley cultivation this winter.

Ukraine planted about 4.1 million hectares of winter wheat for the 2023 season, while the area cultivated with winter barley amounted to about 615,000 hectares.

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Harvesting wheat in a field during the Russia-Ukraine conflict near the settlement of Nikolsky in the Russian-controlled Donetsk region, Ukraine, on July 19, 2023. (Reuters/Alexander Ermoshenko/file photo)

Ukraine is the traditional grower of winter wheat, which accounts for at least 95% of the country’s total wheat production.

Farmers have already completed the 2023 wheat harvest, threshing 21.94 million metric tons. The crop reached 20.7 million tons in 2022.

The ministry gave no forecast for the total area planted in 2024, but said the total area under cultivation of winter crops could rise by 0.5 million hectares, or 8%, compared with the previous season.

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Traders say an increase in the area planted with winter crops, especially winter oilseeds, may mean that farmers plant fewer spring grain crops, with maize and spring barley likely to be affected.

Ukraine can now export limited quantities through small river ports on the Danube River and across its western land border with the European Union.

This has forced local producers to adjust their plans for planting in 2023 and switch from cereal crops to oilseeds, which are more expensive but yield less.

Ukraine has already reduced corn-growing area in favor of sunflower in 2023.

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