Astarta revealed that it had completed a full spring sowings programme, and within the ideal planting window, in the latest sign that Ukraine’s 2022 harvest may prove less dismal than initially feared.

The group – Ukraine’s top sugar producer, but also a significant producer of grains and oilseeds – said that it had “completed the full range of field works on its entire land bank”, and done so “within the optimal time” despite some of its farms being temporarily occupied by Russian forces until last month.

“Astarta uses 100% of the land it operates and, after demining, planted even on those lands in the Chernihiv region,” in northern Ukraine, said Vadym Skrypnyk, the company’s director for agricultural production and storage.

Corn vs sunflowers

Sowings of the group’s major six crops had ended up at 202,000 hectares, in line with the 205,000 hectares planted last year, with a further 10 hectares seeded with organic and fodder crops.

Sugar beet area ended up at 33,000 hectares, little changed from 2021, when Astarta was responsible for nearly 15% of Ukraine’s plantings of the root crop.

However, Astarta noted that it had made changes to areas allocated to other crops, with corn plantings, down 21,000 hectares year on year at 38,000 hectares, losing out in the main to oilseeds soybeans and sunflowers.

“They have a lower yield per hectare than corn, but they can be processed locally in Ukraine,” Mr Skrypnyk said.

Sunflower oil prices have also proved particularly strong, thanks to Ukraine’s dominant position in world exports ahead of the conflict.

Harvest forecasts

“Currently, the main tasks of the Astarta team are to harvest on its entire land bank and ensure the storage and processing of the crops,” the group added.

The comments come amid a continued focus by investors on the implications of the Ukraine war for the country’s 2022 harvest, and indeed exports from the broader former Soviet Union in 2022-23.

While investors still expected a significant decline, recent forecasts have tended to be above those made soon after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, in late February.

APK-Inform, for instance, has raised by 2.1m tonnes its forecast for Ukraine’s wheat output, from a March figure of 14.9m tonnes.

The US Department of Agriculture last week, in its first forecast, pegged the crop higher still, at 21.5m tonnes.

The USDA said in a Ukraine wheat commentary that based on information from the country’s agriculture ministry, “that was corroborated with local contacts, the destruction/abandonment rate for conflict zones is forecast at 30%.

“This percent includes areas that ha ve been destroyed because Russians have mined fields, bombs that have left unw orkable craters and debris in fields, and areas that will be abandoned due to lack of fuel or manpower.”

Differing fortunes

Meanwhile, MHP last month forecast that it would lose less than 5% of its sowings, seeing them fall by 15,500 hectares this year to about 335,000 hectares, again despite some of the land being temporarily occupied by Russian forces.

However, Kernel Holding, which farms some 500,000 hectares in all, has forecast a spring planting campaign of 334,000 hectares, down by more than 70,000 hectares year on year.

“Kernel internal estimates are a 25% year-on-year reduction in sowing acreage under 6 key crops (corn, wheat, barley, sunflower, soybean and rapeseed), and 35-40% decline in harvest of grain and sunflower seeds,” the group said.