In this section, we have always shared information about how potato growing is developing in different parts of Russia. But since 2020, we decided to go beyond the usual boundaries in every sense: in the final issue of last year we talked about the achievements of the potato industry in Kazakhstan, and the first issue of 2021 was dedicated to Belarus.
Belarus is rightfully called the country of potatoes. It is one of the twenty largest producers in the world (takes 11th place) and is the leader in terms of the volume of product received per capita: according to IndexBox, in 2019 there were 591 kilograms of potatoes per person. The highest level of consumption is also recorded here: 183 kg of potatoes per year for each inhabitant of the country.
Nevertheless, in recent years, the press has more and more often flashed information that Belarus is reducing the area for growing the national product. About whether this is really so, as well as about what problems the industry is facing today and what tasks it sets itself, we asked to tell Vadim Makhanko, Director General of the Scientific and Practical Center of the National Academy of Sciences of Belarus for potato and horticultural production.
Areas are shrinking, yields are increasing
The volume of areas allotted for growing potatoes in Belarus is indeed gradually decreasing. This trend is easily seen in the public sector (large agricultural enterprises). The main reason is an increase in yield. Producers at the same cost per hectare - due to good technology, growing seed quality - receive approximately the same gross harvests.
In the category of commercial farms, the average yield in the republic came close to 30 t / ha. The best farms have been showing results of 50-70 t / ha for several years in a row, when grown in sufficiently large areas and without irrigation.
But there are other factors that affect the scale of potato production. One of them is the problem of selling finished products. Previously, the bulk of the crop was supplied to the Russian Federation, but in the past two years, the demand for Belarusian ware potatoes there has fallen sharply. These are objective data, which are confirmed by both the customs service of the Russian Federation and the chamber of commerce of the Republic of Belarus, which registers all external trade agreements. Many private farms had to reorient themselves to work with crops that are more in demand on the market.
Less potatoes were also grown in private farmsteads (and according to statistics, 80% of potatoes in Belarus are produced in households). People stopped planting potatoes for sale because it became more difficult to sell them. Previously, a truck would come to the village, and buyers took all the available volume of products: from one yard - a ton, from another - five, from the third - ten. Now wholesale buyers want to get at least 20 tons of one grade and the same quality at once.
The priority is domestic
At least 65-70%, and in some years even 75%, of the area allotted by large-scale farms for potato production in the country is occupied by varieties of Belarusian selection.
The most popular: Breeze, Skarb, Zhuravinka, Manifesto, Ragneda. Of the foreign achievements, Gala, Red Scarlett, Queen Anne are in the top ten.
Of course, Belarusian producers are interested in European varieties. This is partly due to the demands of retailers or processing companies. Those and other representatives of international business, as a rule, have their own lists of recommended potato varieties, common to the entire global network.
In part, it is connected with the desire to test the capabilities of world leaders in their own conditions. Let's not forget that the Belarusian share of the total volume of breeding work of large potato-growing countries is approximately 1%. It is difficult to compete in such conditions.
The development of Belarusian breeding and seed production is greatly facilitated by the support of the state. For the purchase of high-quality seeds of domestic producers, farmers are allocated subsidies, and the amount of payments has been increasing recently.
So, last season, the subsidy was 50% of the cost. And this despite the fact that all the volumes of Belarusian potato varieties of the "elite" and "super-super-elite" categories are sold in the country at fixed prices, which are set by the Ministry of Agriculture and Food (as a rule, they are 20 or even thirty). In 30, the cost of a kilogram of the "elite", according to the decision of the department, was 2020 kopecks (about 55 Russian rubles), but the agricultural producer paid only 14 kopecks.
Another important aspect when choosing a variety: the quality of the seed, although here I would not make sharp contrasts: both Belarusian and European seed growers have something to work on.
Our achievements are generally difficult to compare with European ones, the initial data are too different: in 1943, when Belarus was liberated from the Nazis, the entire infrastructure of the country was completely destroyed. And in Holland at this time the scientific life did not stop, the famous variety of potatoes, Desiree, was created.
Then came the 90s, which were not inferior to the war in their destructive effect on the sphere of seed production. We have lost personnel, equipment, buildings. For some vegetable crops, it has not yet been possible to restore seed production.
There used to be 43 micropropagation laboratories in Belarus, now there are no more than a dozen of them. Of course, these are enlarged modernized facilities, but the former production volumes are no longer there.
Of course, the situation is gradually changing. In addition to our center, potato seed production is carried out by specialized farms, in each region there are experimental stations, which, among other things, are engaged in the production of minitubers in sufficiently large volumes.
100% of the first tuberous generation is grown in greenhouses with a partially controlled microclimate.
I cannot say that everything is fine in the industry today, and we have reached cosmic heights. Problems arise, but we are trying to provide quality seed potatoes to our producers, and send the necessary volumes for export.
Export of seed potatoes
The key market for Belarusian seed potatoes is Russia. The basis of export is four varieties (according to the data for the last three years): Breeze, Skarb, Manifest and Zhuravinka.
I would very much like to offer Russian consumers new products of our selection, but unfortunately, we cannot do this: for four years now we have not transferred varieties for variety testing, for representatives of foreign countries this procedure has become paid and very expensive.
In addition to Russia, Belarus supplies seed potatoes to Kazakhstan. At the moment, this country has abandoned the register, any varieties can be imported there, the main thing is that the potatoes meet the quality requirements. We supply small volumes to Georgia and Uzbekistan (for the last two years).
Processing: there are varieties, problems too
Today there are about ten starch producers in Belarus. Two factories are equipped with Chinese equipment, one with Swedish equipment, the rest use old Soviet lines. Nevertheless, they produce the amount of starch that the country needs. As a rule, only modified starch is purchased for certain industries (chemical, pharmaceutical, etc.), in small volumes.
The key obstacle hindering the development of the industry is the lack of quality raw materials.
Let me note right away: Belarus has a fairly wide selection of varieties for starch production. During the Soviet era, a breeding center was located in the republic, specializing in the creation of high-starchy varieties, we have the necessary experience. Moreover, our varieties have advantages in comparison with foreign ones: in our lineup there are options from medium early to medium late, while the majority of European starch varieties are ultra late, which means they are not quite suitable for our climate. Despite the fact that the capitals of Belarus and Germany are located approximately on the same parallel, the growing season in the Berlin area is still two months longer. In addition, late varieties are not ideal from the economic point of view: they require increased doses of nitrogen fertilizers (due to the long growing season), the maximum number of treatments for late blight.
However, in order for agricultural producers to become interested in the production of raw materials for starch factories, varieties alone are not enough, the price at which the factories are ready to accept these raw materials is important. So far, it is such that at almost any moment (with an increase in market demand), farmers who have contracts with processing enterprises sell their highly starchy product to stores or for export as a canteen.
For several years the Belarusian snack company Onega + has been trying to solve the problem of lack of high-quality raw materials, one of the activities of which is the production of chips from raw potatoes. At the stage of launching production, they immediately began to work with agricultural producers on a contract basis: they bought seeds for farms, helped to master the technology. It was not possible to quickly get the product of the desired quality, the issues of meeting the terms and volumes of deliveries also turned out to be problematic, but the plant does not lose hope of finding a suitable supplier. By the way, in the near future "Onega +" plans to start using potatoes of our two varieties for the production of chips: Zhuravinka and Nara, both of which proved to be excellent during the tests.
At the Tolochin cannery, where the French fries production shop (the first enterprise for the production of French fries in Belarus) is being prepared for launch, they plan to grow the raw materials on their own. Own areas (1000 hectares), extensive experience in the production of seed potatoes, staffing (agronomists, machine operators, storage technologists) allow to establish production. It is planned to use potatoes of the Belarusian variety Lel as a raw material, although its tests have not yet been carried out: the line has not yet been launched, and commissioning, at the request of a contract with the manufacturer, will be carried out with varieties of European selection.
Let us devote a few words to the latest achievements of Belarusian breeding. Our early potato growers love the ultra-early variety Pershazvet... Including, and in the literal sense of what was said: potatoes - against the background of most other varieties of the same ripening period, they stand out for their very good taste. Red tuber, shape: from round to round-oval.
Another ultra early variety included in the roster this year is Yuliya.
Tests for medium early variety are coming to an end The master (with white master - artist). Its characteristic features are immunity to viral diseases (X and Y), high resistance to the group of mosaic viruses. Additional bonuses: high yield, good taste, suitability for long-term storage.
Separately, I would like to say about the mid-late variety Nara... This is the pride of Belarusian breeders, since the taste of potatoes is similar to the standard taste for us of the old and very beloved Lasunok variety. Another plus of the variety is that it is well suited for the production of chips and dry potatoes.
Palace - a new red-tuber variety, also very interesting.
These are the main varieties that we would like to offer in the near future for variety testing to the Russian Federation.
We feel climate change very strongly. Our specialists have recorded the manifestations of about 30 new diseases in the Belarusian fields, the spread of which was previously hindered by an insufficient sum of positive temperatures. All these diseases are of an imported nature and penetrate into the country, as a rule, with seed (not only potatoes).
The warming has provoked a sharp development of fungi of the genus Pythium, causing wound watery rot. Now the losses from it in Belarus are greater than from late blight. Of course, this is a problem caused by a complex of reasons, but warming is one of the main ones.
It has become more difficult to deal with the vectors of viral diseases: aphids, leafhoppers - they all perfectly tolerate an increase in temperature.
In addition, droughts have become more frequent in the republic. And last year there was a climatic incident. It all started with a strong warming: on April 26, in the Minsk region, the soil temperature at the planting depth reached + 10-14 degrees. The potatoes were planted, and literally at the beginning of May the heat went away, the soil temperature at the planting depth dropped to + 2..4 degrees. There has never been such a sharp and prolonged cooling in May in the foreseeable past. Vegetation was delayed by more than a month. None of the best drugs for rhizoctonia disease kept the disease.
Climatic changes force large potato producers to think about the introduction of irrigation equipment, with which it is possible to program both the amount of crop accumulation and its quality.
Today, only a few farms can afford the cultivation of irrigated potatoes: it is very costly, besides, the republic in a number of regions is not very rich in water resources, during periods of drought even reclamation canals dry up in our country.
Unfortunately, the Soviet land reclamation system was destroyed long ago, and the country is only taking the first steps to build a new one.