When war broke out in Ukraine, Christof Conings (49), a Flemish farmer who lives and has his businesses in Lutsk, a small town in north-western Ukraine, feared that his harvest would fail. But it isn't the harvest that's the problem but rather getting his grain out of the country.
Conings cultivates almost a thousand hectares of grain and soy and had a very good season thanks to buying all the fertilisers and sprays before the war started.
"Except for the bombing of the nearby military airport at the beginning of the war, it has been quiet here, life goes on as usual," he told Het Belang Van Limburg. "Business never really stopped. Farm workers were exempt from conscription so that food production would not be compromised."
About two weeks ago, Conings started harvesting and has now collected almost 800 tonnes of grain. "The silos are bulging, it was a great harvest. The biggest problem now is getting all that grain out of the country. I cannot find a single driver who wants to drive to Poland."
Surplus grain from last year
In the past, Conings produced primarily for the domestic market but the price of grain in Ukraine has collapsed. "In Poland, they pay me three times as much for a kilo of wheat. When I sell here, I almost make a loss."
The price is so low in Ukraine because of the Russian threat: the troops have regularly attacked granaries, meaning that farmers are no longer inclined to stock up. "Additionally, there is still a lot of last year's grain in stock because the ports have remained closed."
While the ride to the Polish border from Lutsk is fewer than 200 km, Conings cannot find a driver who is willing to make the trip. "It is not that it is dangerous, but you do get stuck in traffic for seven days. The waiting times at the customs posts are dramatic. I have already contacted hundreds of drivers, but no one is willing."
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He explained that he offers payment of €1,500 per month, which is very decent by Ukrainian standards. "To give you an idea: until recently, my accountant earned about €500 a month."
Conings says that the EU can do more to help farmers: "If there is so much solidarity for Ukraine, why does the EU not temporarily open the borders for export? Then we wouldn't have those gigantic queues."
For Conings, time is running out, as the harvest of soybeans starts at the end of this month. "There must be room in the silos by then. If I really cannot find a solution, I will have to sell domestically."