On that day, Onishchuk wasn’t overly concerned that he hadn’t been paid yet. Fending off Russia was foremost on his mind. But then one week passed — and then a month and then four months — with Ukraine’s main ports still blockaded by Russia’s fleet. Not only was he missing the money from his last yield but a new crop was nearly ready to send to market, with no way to profitably move it. And future crops were uncertain.
“If we don’t sell this grain now and don’t cover our expenses, tomorrow we simply won’t be able to plant,” he said.
Farmers across Ukraine are increasingly feeling the financial strain of Russia’s Black Sea blockade, and the sector’s economic collapse is affecting food security across the world. Ukraine accounted for 10 percent of global wheat exports in 2021, according to the United Nations.
The high cost of exporting grain via alternate routes — by truck or train to a Western neighbor or on a barge through smaller ports on the Danube River — means farmers are losing money, they said.
Many farmers are declining to export the current harvest at all — unless a diplomatic solution is reached to unblock the Black Sea ports. Some said they’ll store their grain in silos for now. But with no money coming in, they might not be able to harvest this fall — threatening to dramatically slash the output of one of the world’s largest grain producers for years to come.
“We feed the world, but we also have to feed ourselves,” said Oleksandr Chumak, a farmer in the southern region of Odessa.
Chumak and Onishchuk said that while wheat prices on the global market have skyrocketed to more than $400 a ton, wheat traders are offering them about $60 a ton because of the high cost of getting the grain out of the country — from expensive fuel to long delays at the border. Onishchuk, who rents his land and has to pay about 40 employees, said that covers only about half his costs.
Ukraine has worked to improve the other export routes, but they each come with their own headaches. Farmers and government officials said most of the grain is now going out via the Danube River, where it flows down to Romania’s Black Sea ports of Sulina and Constanta. But the Romanians are…