KSU economist describes Russian agriculture

Josh Roe (left), economist and agribusiness coordinator with the Kansas Department of Agriculture, posed in front of St. Basil?s Cathedral in Moscow. Also pictured are David Mertz (middle) and Bob Mertz of River Creek Farms in Zeandale.Josh Roe, an economist and agribusiness coordinator with the Kansas Department of Agriculture, was the guest speaker at the 68th annual Marion County Conservation District?s annual meeting.

Formerly with K-State Research and Extension, Roe was part of a team who received a USDA grant to host Russian scholars in Kansas.

?After talking to these people, about a year later (in 2012), I was bouncing across the Russian countryside,? he said.

The collaboration grant included Roe and other Russian scholars in reducing black carbon emissions.

?Russia has constant southerly winds toward the poles all the time,? Roe said.

Over the last 50 years of burning wheat to keep disease out, the soot has fallen on the polar ice caps.

Black carbon causes environmental harm and impacts human health in the Arctic. When deposited on snow or ice, it reduces the reflection of sunlight, causing further warming and increasing the rate of melting.

A group of people listened as the owner of DIK Herefords in Kaluga, Russia, spoke about the operation.The basis of the grant, he explained, was to help Russian producers get a lot of different crop rotations.

Similar to Minnesota on the same latitude, the team provided advice on alternative crops and alternatives to burning.

Roe said Russia?s government farm agency operates similar to K-State Research and Extension.

?We had four to five-day workshops talking about strategies to work in crop rotation and no-till targeted to their growing conditions,? he said. ?They could grow more crops than just wheat.?

Roe said the delegates had a great time even though they couldn?t understand each other.

Providing statistics about the agricultural-side, he said, Russia has 327.5 million acres of arable land and the U.S. has 335 million.

?Russia is so much bigger than the U.S., but on a large scale, we have more ground and more farms,? he said.

Russia has 3.5 million corn acres and averages about 56 bushels an acre.

?Their crop is wheat at 71 million acres compared to the U.S. with 54 million acres,? he said.

After completing the workshops, Roe said, they met up with other officials from Kansas, some who had been to Russia a dozen times.

Ranchers in Russia

During those talks, he said, they looked at different cattle operations.

?Most of the cattle were actually born in the U.S. and shipped over to Russia,? he said, ?which was just fascinating.?

Part of the reason for this is because of the strong export assist program in the U.S., he said.

?Just from Kansas alone, we exported 47,000 head of cattle to Russia and surrounding countries last year,? Roe said. ?It is absolutely amazing the livestock we are putting from Kansas to over there in Russia, and it?s all about making connections.?

The K-State delegation and U.S. Embassy staff are pictured with the president of the Russian Engineering Academy of Management and Agribusiness at the Golden Autumn Farm Show in Moscow.According to Roe, someone can?t pick up the telephone here in Kansas or get a call from Russia to get cattle there.

Roe said there was also one thing he won?t ever complain about again, too.

?We went to the southwest (region) and I am never going to complain about county roads again after traveling on Russian roads,? he said.

Russia has over 50 different provinces or states, he explained, and one of the provinces they visited was the Kaluga Province with about 1 million people.

?Only 340,000 people live in the city,? Roe said, ? so it is mostly a rural area with about 17,000 farms.?

Abandoned ground

Speaking with the Russian secretary of agriculture, he said there is 7.4 million acres of farm land and 2.5 million acres or 40 percent of all the agricultural land is still abandoned from the Soviet era.

Much of the abandoned land has cool season grasses on tilled ground and birch growing out of control.

?It would take some work to clear that (before planting could take place),? he said.

At one time, he said, Russia was importing food to feed themselves, but now is a big exporter to China and India.

Russia has the potential to be a new world food power, but the farmers there first need to overcome years of decline, Roe said.

Kaluga Province

?The major crops are potatoes, winter wheat and corn silage,? he said. ?Actually they grew a fair amount of corn silage.?

Kaluga has about 12,000 head of livestock, which is a small amount and not a single commercial slaughter plant in this state, Roe added.

?One thing going for them is they are only about a four-hour drive to Moscow.?

Russian representatives asked how they could get this abandoned land productive again.

Roe said he was told that the land is only worth about $100 per acre, but no foreigners can purchase the land.

?You have to be a Russian citizen to buy it,? he said.

?If you want to get rolling (on this land), allow some Americans to buy 100 acres of ground.?

Roe said he was told the problem would be China buying up the whole country.

Visiting three farms

During their visit, the group focused on three farms with one of the larger of the two having a purebred Angus ranch.

?They started importing cattle five years ago,? he said, ?and built their genetics. They have also built their own slaughterhouse.?

Owned by a Russian billionaire, Roe said, it?s a small world because in talking with one of the managers of this 22,000 head operation, he learned he grew up only 50 miles from him.

?The grazing season is about five months,? he said.

?The soil is high in organic matter and drains really well.

The problem is with building a grazing system, he said.

?They can?t get a pond to hold any water over there, so there are wells and piped watering systems in these different pastures.?

Another tour involved a collective dairy, he said, employing thousands of people.

The dairy was built in the communist regime, and according to Roe, ?screams something that was built in the 1950s,? even though the building was actually finished in 1982.

Favorite place

One of his favorite farms had 400 registered herefords and the small family did their own slaughtering.

?They have a direct market to Moscow grocery stores at $3.25 per pound, which is what beef is going for,? he said.

The family is also in the process of upgrading an onsite slaughtering facility.

?They spoke good English,? he said, ?and that was a nice change?not being dependent on interpretors.?

The ranch had cool season grass mix, a walk-in cooler that was out in their shed.

?Until (the owner) built an upgraded facility, he literally was slaughtering steer in the dirt,? he said.

?There were times I ate beef and it was well overcooked, but after seeing these smaller slaughtering facilities, I thought maybe it wasn?t so bad (the beef) was on the well-done side.?

Prior to the new slaughter facilities, he had a loader with chain hoist on it and that?s how it was done.

?In the new facility, the steer would come into the slaughter house, they would shoot it, hoist it up and doing skinning and other work by hand,? he said. ?Even with the nicer facility, they are still doing quite a bit of work for two head a week.?

Very large ranchers

Miratorg, which is 250 miles southwest of Moscow was originally an import/export business involving twin brothers, who were couriers by trade and got connected in government, Roe said.

?They were buying a lot of imported meat and talking with different politicians,? he said. ?It is also no coincidence whatsoever that (Russian President) Vladimir Putin was there and the brothers even have a helicopter pad (for these visits).?

According to Roe, the brothers eventually switched from meat import/export to production and now have a 200,000 head count.

?When all is said and done, they want to be in 400,000 to 500,000 head range,? he said. ?They also have two million hogs, 50 million chickens, and 6,000 employees.?

The farm has 1.5 million acres of ground and they are the largest private buyer of John Deere equipment in the world, he said.

?It is hard to wrap my brain around these numbers?especially cattle,? Roe said.

In talking with some of the managers at the farm and ranch, they pay extremely well.

In fact, they are looking for about 20 American managers and for anyone wanting to make some very good, tax-free money, they need to look into this one, he added.

When shipping bulls and heifers from the U.S. to Russia, they are exported from Texas, 5,000 head at a time in big cargo ships.

?The last shipment death loss was only nine,? he said. ?They really have this figured out.?

Roe grew up on a diversified crop and cattle farm in Republic County and still holds agricultural interests today.

For more information about the tour or ranch operations, call 785-296-3556.