President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Mr Tkachev, harvesting is gradually moving towards completion. What result will you report this year?
Agriculture Minister Alexander Tkachev: The outlook is better than ever. Actually, we have a unique opportunity to gather in the largest harvest in the past 25 years: between 110 and 115 million tonnes. As of now, we have finished harvesting about 80 percent of the farmland.
We had a similar harvest in 1990, but this was due to several factors, including the area cultivated, which was 10 million hectares larger. The average yield is now 24 centners per hectare, thanks to higher yield and farming standards and improved farming technologies. Back then, we only harvested 10 to 15 centners per hectare. In other words, government investment in agriculture…
Vladimir Putin: The yield has almost doubled.
Alexander Tkachev: Yes, it has almost doubled. Some years, say in the 1950s and 1960s, the yield was 7–8 centners across the country, both in the southern regions and in the Russian Far East.
We can gather in large harvests in Russia thanks to unprecedented state support – unprecedented is the right word here – and the dedicated efforts of the agricultural workers, including farm equipment operators, researchers and other professionals. In addition, the weather was quite cooperative this year.
I should say that we need not be alarmed by the figures. According to global practice, the grain balance in wealthier countries is one tonne per person. For us that would be about 150 million tonnes. We will harvest about 115–116 million tonnes this year, and so there is still room for improvement.
If we continue to improve our performance, there are grounds to believe that the yield will grow, because we used amelioration and other faming technologies to develop new land and to reclaim the areas that were overgrown with trees or have become deserts – we will be able to gather in 150 million tonnes in 10 or 15 years at the most. We will be able to feed the country and export the larger part of the harvest.
Vladimir Putin: Is our export potential growing?
Alexander Tkachev: Yes, Mr President. We increased grain exports by 30 to 40 percent over the past 5–7 years. We are gaining a foothold in new markets, not only in the Gulf area but also in North Africa and Asia Pacific. We have a presence there, and we will continue to strengthen our positions.
Vladimir Putin: Mr Tkachev, we should take several factors into account here; you are well aware of them.
First, when planning exports we must not forget about our national interests and the domestic market of fodder and food grains. Despite growing exports, our priority task is to satisfy the domestic demand.
The second factor is the market situation. You know about the situation in global markets, where grain prices have decreased. We should take note of this, and we probably should not hurry to market more grain but instead keep up the grain prices in the interests of our farmers.
As far as I know and can see from documents, we are increasing not only grain exports but also the export of livestock produce, such as pork and poultry. Do you see any positive change in this area?
Alexander Tkachev: I will start with the first point, if I may. Of course, the Agriculture Ministry must maintain the balance. We are monitoring this, and I can assure you that meeting the demand for fodder and food grain is our top priority.
Only surplus grain – I stress, only surplus grain is exported. There can be no other way. Exports are a source of revenue, of foreign currency, which is making our farmers richer and giving them an income.
As for other products, you are absolutely right that our livestock exports are growing. Over the past five months, we increased pork exports threefold to some $10 million, and this is only the beginning.
Actually, we have barely entered this market. You know better than I do that we used to import huge amounts of livestock produce, starting with US chicken quarters, pork and beef, as well as dairy products. We have increased poultry exports 3.5 times to some $25 million.
I am sure that our exports will reach hundreds of millions of dollars. We must certainly increase that. The exportable grain should be used to produce fodder that will be supplied to our livestock breeders, so that we ultimately export finished products, earning much more.
Vladimir Putin: Good.