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Farm News & Views - March 7, 2023

We’ve recently passed the 1st anniversary of the start of the Russa-Ukraine conflict, and according to analysts from the Kyiv School of Economics, the Ukrainian agricultural sector has suffered almost $38 billion in direct and indirect losses from Russia's invasion. Ukraine is a major global grain producer and exporter but large areas of its east, south and north farmlands have been fought on, occupied and mined since the invasion started. Direct loses have come from $3.8 billion in destruction of equipment, $1.2 billion from damage to grain storage facilities and almost $22 billion from ruined agricultural products. $30 billion of indirect losses include lost output, reduced exports, higher production costs and the remediation of damaged soil. When the war started, Ukraine had planted almost 15 million acres of winter wheat, but only 9 million acres of wheat has been planted for harvest in 2023. Last month, the International Food Policy Research Institute forecast that low producer prices and high input costs are discouraging grain production in Ukraine this year, and that means that the world will have to produce additional grains and oil seeds to help rebuild stocks and moderate price levels. Before the invasion, Ukraine was one of the world’s largest wheat exporters, a major corn exporter, and a global leader in sunflower oil exports. But the war may have long term consequences for agricultural production in the country. Using soil samples and satellite imagery, scientists at Ukraine’s Institute for Soil Science and Agrochemistry Research estimate that the war has degraded almost 26 million acres of agricultural land across Ukraine so far, caused by high concentrations of toxins such as mercury and arsenic from munitions and fuel polluting the ground.

Last month, USDA Chief Economist Seth Meyer predicted that the 2023 wholesale egg prices will fall almost 27% as the number of egg-laying chickens rebounds and producers take steps to protect their flocks. But Sarah Bevins, a research biologist at the National Wildlife Research Center in Fort Collins, Colorado reports that we may not be out of the woods yet, because USDA's wild bird surveillance found more than 6,000 wild bird cases involving 100 species of birds over the past year that had been infected with highly pathogenic avian influenza, and Ducks, geese and swans were being infected at a high rate, as were raptors and vultures. Scientists point out that a strain considered far more infectious to migratory birds can spread easier to farms around the country, and domestic birds as a group don't have resistance to the disease.

Although the following story doesn’t have a lot to do with agriculture here is the Four Corners, it does indicate that the wet winter in most of the southwestern U.S. has provided drought mitigation along with a problem or two. According to Noemi Hernandez Castro, Plant Specialist at Desert Botanical Garden in Mesa, Arizona, the winter rains, and even some snow, is affecting the iconic saguaro cactus that grow in the Sonoran Desert in southern Arizona. She points out that a cacti can grow up to 16 inches a year in wet periods, continuing to absorb water to prepare for the dry months. But these cactus don’t know when to stop absorbing water, and because of their shallow root systems, when they become waterlogged, they can fall down, especially when hit by high winds. This is probably an example of too much of a good thing.

Bob has been an agricultural educator and farm and ranch management consultant for over 40 years in southwest Colorado. He writes about agricultural issues from his farm near Cortez, and has helped to produce farm reports on KSJD for more than a dozen years.