This Europe: Russian harvest goes against the grain

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The Independent Online

Flush with another bumper crop, Russian grain farmers hoping to export their harvest face more than money troubles and a hard-to-shake reputation as importers: they are facing a problem of engineering.

Flush with another bumper crop, Russian grain farmers hoping to export their harvest face more than money troubles and a hard-to-shake reputation as importers: they are facing a problem of engineering.

Russian ports, built in the days when the former Soviet Union relied on imported grain, were designed only to unload it. But for the second year in a row, Russian farmers are harvesting more grain than the country needs.

"The old problem of 'where to buy [grain]' has given way to a new problem: where to store it, how to sell it and how to keep the price from being ruined," the Argumenty i Fakty newspaper said.

The fear is that the excess grain will flood the Russian market, causing already low prices to collapse, or worse, the grain will be left to rot in a warehouse, destroying the industry's motivation to keep producing.

Alexander Yukish, president of the Russian Grain Union, urged the Kremlin to buy some of the crop and reduce railway tariffs. "State financing must appear on the scene," Andrei Syzov, general director of the agricultural analysis centre SovEcon, has said. Getting the grain out of Russia is just one part of the battle.

Russia also must persuade the world community to buy it. The main export markets are the Middle East, northern Africa and southern Europe.

But Russian grain suffers an image problem. The quality has not always been consistent and many foreign markets are not interested.

The government has also been slow to change, farmers say. Agricultural attachés tend to be only in embassies in countries from which Russia traditionally imported grain, not in potential export markets.

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