Aleksandr Lukashenko, July 2022
Last year when inspecting an experimental field in his hometown in Shklov District the head of state said that today is a historic and crucial moment in agriculture and that the country will pay an increased focus on winter barley. After that, this crop became a thing in the mass media and expert community. Is winter barley really a revolutionary crop for the country’s agricultural industry? In the new episode of BelTA’s YouTube project «After the Fact: Lukashenko’s Decisions» we will tell your whether the opinion of the head of state changed regarding this crop.
How does climate change affect the Belarusian agriculture
The Belarusian summer is very short and people in cities do not have enough time to enjoy it. Time flies even faster for farmers who have to grow crops in this short timeframe. The most thankless job is to make predictions. This year is proof of this. May 2023 was the driest since 1945. The country had an average of 12mm of precipitation, or about 20% of the climatic norm. The dry weather spell has affected not only the start of the harvest, but also the sequence of crops to be harvested. Previously, the harvest began with winter rye. This year it was winter barley. It ripens earlier than other crops and is less affected by dry weather.
«We are considering stepping up winter barley breeding, because we see that the ratio of spring barley and winter barley will change. We are planning to increase the area of winter barley nurseries, while cutting down a little on those cultivating spring barley. We have intensified work on winter barley seeds in order to submit them to the state commission for testing. We have three new varieties: Ranak, which is uncommon, two standard-issue Dnieper and Vytok,” said Aleksandr Zubkovich, Head of the Barley Laboratory of the Research Center for Arable Farming, National Academy of Sciences of Belarus.
Winter barley belongs to the group of winter grains. It shares it with rye and wheat. They are planted in late summer or early autumn before the freezing weather sets in. The crop is harvested the following year. The food industry uses winter barley grain to make pearl barley groats and peeled barley, and also barley flour. It is also an excellent raw material for the production of beer, kvass and coffee substitutes. Grain is not only used to make bread, but also milk, cheese, sour cream, meat. Cereals hold a significant share in feed regimens of cattle, pigs and poultry. They are rich in proteins and contain starch.
Why did Lukashenko pay attention to winter barley back in the day
We took a closer look at this crop at the suggestion of the president. Back when he was at the helm of an agricultural enterprise, he was engaged in its cultivation.Therefore, the president knows from personal experience that winter barley is harvested earlier than other grain crops. This allows farmers to quickly restock on fodder for animal husbandry and more evenly use the equipment before mass harvest begins.
During a working trip to Minsk Oblast in August 2019, the president recalled how the agricultural company he headed cultivated winter barley. «I probably planted 200 hectares to winter barley. The yield, of course, is (was) lower than that of other crops. But this is a salvation when animal feed stocks are depleting in the spring. Winter barley is ripening at the end of May.»
How many hectares are planted to winter barley in Belarus
The president instructed to systemically increase the areas planted to this crop. For example, this year winter barley was planted on 161,000 hectares, up 2.7 times over 2022, and which accounts for 11% of arable land. As the president has repeatedly emphasized, special attention should be paid to technology and a reasonable balance. If winter barley does not yield well, we should be able to make up for it using other crops. It is not a good idea to make farmers plant certain acreage to winter barley. People on the ground know better.
«There are many reasons why we should cultivate winter barley. In Soviet times, they did not care about this. Now technology, equipment, and people are different. We can easily get good harvests of barley. So go for it,” » the president said as he addressed farmers of Minsk Oblast during a workin trip to Slutsk District in July 2022.
The president added: «There is no need to pressurize farmers into this. They must decide for themselves, taking into account experience, how much barley they want to cultivate.»
During the latest conference call to discuss the harvest progress Aleksandr Lukashenko revisited the issue of winter barley cultivation. «I would like to emphasize that winter barley is not my invention. We have been cultivating it for a long time, but on a residual basis. We have never paid special attention to this crop. But we should if we decide to cultivate it. This is a capricious crop. It does well where technologies are observed (this applies to any other crop, but above of all to winter barley). I think we should cultivate winter barley. It survived the difficult last year and this year and gave a good harvest,” the president said.
Difference between winter and spring barley
The climate change has an impact on agriculture. For example, in the course of five years winter grains yielded better than spring grains. Winter crops can be saved by top dressing in spring, while spring crops are more susceptible to broken weather. There are no two years alike: there can be a drought during one season, and heavy rains during the next one. Hence the president’s demand: not to shift the blame on weather, but to work hard on the fields.
“I understand perfectly well that this year the weather is different from last year’s. The 40-day dry streak has affected crops all over the country. Yet, it would be wrong to panic because of the drought. We will not reap as much as we did last year when we cropped a record-high harvest, but I don’t demand it from you. Last year you harvested 10.5 million tonnes of grain of all crops, this year I ask you to deliver 9 [million tonnes]. We can do it if we show good teamwork and maintain discipline. If a machine operator takes care of a harvester… It is the job of an engineer, an agronomist, an executive and, first and foremost, a machine operator. If we preserve the grain that is in the field now, we will have harvest,” the president said at the recent meeting on harvesting.
Winter barley is cultivated in countries with mild winters. These are mainly the southern regions of Europe and Asia. In the EU, the main producers of barley are France, Germany, Austria, and Spain. By the way, analysts expect a decline in barley production this year. According to Spanish farmers, the drought has caused irreparable damage to more than 3.5 million hectares of cereals. According to recent observations, the Belarusian climate is becoming increasingly similar to the Spanish one. Winters are neither cold nor snowy. There is less moisture. Winter crops have no time to hibernate. That is why scientists are working on new varieties.
What grows on the president’s experimental field
The president reiterated his great hopes on winter barley during his trip to his native town this year. The head of state closely monitors the entire agricultural cycle: from planting to harvesting. New crop varieties that are developed by Belarusian scientists, including barley, are tested on experimental field of the head of state. By the way, the Buslik variety was tested on the Alexandria fields before it was included in the State Register of Plant Varieties and introduced into the fields in all regions of the country.
Currently, 13 varieties are featured on the register, but not all of them are cultivated. Most of the area is planted to the French varieties Theresa and Isocel. They grew up on the presidential field,” Aleksandr Zubkovich said.
The scientist noted that the Buslik variety demonstrated good characteristics on the presidential field. “Although we were nervous about it, to be honest. This is a great responsibility. The head of state is in control of the situation, he sees everything. Sunflowers, soybeans, peas, lupins are currently cultivated on the so-called experimental presidential field. Commercial crops include the Belarusian variety Buslik, the French varieties Theresa, Isocel,” he added.
According to him, the Buslik variety has been cultivated for the second year. “We sold it to all the regions upon order. This is about 5,300ha. Agricultural companies will be able to test it. The variety was also tested in the Russian Federation. It was approved for cultivation and included in the state register. Now we are doing paperwork to patent it in the Russian Federation,” the scientist informed.
Winter barley yields
”I must tell you that winter barley yields more than 50 centners [per hectare] on average. If all crops in the country yielded so well, we would be rolling in clover. Therefore, the winter barley area should be expanded,” the president said addressing Mogilev Oblast Governor Anatoly Isachenko in July 2022.
The president always pays close attention to the agricultural industry. He does not only keeps his finger on the pulse, but also sets the pace. It is not for nothing that journalists called the presidential field a breeding ground for the agriculture of the future. The climate is changing, the world economy is undergoing transformations, new technologies are emerging. Here you need to be a step ahead. As they say: Bread is the staff of life.
“Grain is akin to gold today. It is always in demand and is constantly growing in price. The international market has never seen such prices before and will not see them again. If we have free storage capacities, why not fill them with grain. Harvesting is the culmination of all the great work done by the agricultural industry throughout the year. This work is important for ensuring our food security, for having enough food on our tables,” Aleksandr Lukashenko said at the recent meeting on harvesting progress.