Ukrainian farmers will be forced to leave half their corn unharvested heading into winter because silos are already brimming with grains merchants have been unable to export thanks to Russia’s invasion.

Ukraine’s grain shipments, which set a monthly record of 7m tonnes in November, will at best reach 2m tonnes a month thanks to the war’s closure of the country’s Black Sea ports, which historically handled 95% of volumes, said Mykola Gorbachov, president of the Ukrainian Grain Association.

That will force a back-up of grains at silos which, once the forthcoming summer harvest is absorbed too, leave the country without free space to take in the corn crop too.

“We have enough storage capacity for [the] wheat and barley crop,” Mr Gorbachov said, reporting that Ukraine had 50m tonnes of inland storage under its control, plus 5m tonnes at port, but has 30m tonnes of grain still in stocks.

However, the “problem will start somewhere in November”, amid the corn harvest.

‘Short about 20m-25m tonnes’

“We will be short about 20m-25m tonnes of storage capacity,” he told the International Grains Council conference in London.

“It means half of the corn will not be harvested in time. Farmers just will keep it in the fields,” resulting in “a decrease in quality and decrease in yield as well”.

He also questioned the ability of farmers to access the facilities needed to dry corn for storage, questioning too “what kind of price will there be for gas” needed to power the process.

There will be “no problem for the wheat harvest”, for which drying is not such a feature, and for which storage space is available. “But after it will be a problem.”

Corn vs sunflowers

Mr Gorbachov – while estimating at 65m-70m tonnes Ukraine’s total grains and oilseed harvest this year, down from 107m tonnes in 2021 – stopped short of giving a grain-by-grain breakdown.

However, he said that he had been surprised by the amount of corn that Ukrainian farmers have planted, at 4.5m hectares “already done”, when sunflowers, which are particularly highly priced and require fewer inputs, appeared to offer a greater margin to growers.

“The answer is simple – they had enough [corn] seeds. That’s why they planted corn more than other products.”

Sunflowers could yet secure an undue share of Ukraine’s grain exports thanks to their higher price, he added, with a harvest of 10m tonnes expected on top of stocks of 7m tonnes of non-crushed seed left over from 2021.

‘Only one solution’

Mr Gorbachov said that he was pessimistic about raising Ukraine’s grain export pace further, without being able to reopen the country’s Black Sea ports.

“There is not a solution” through transporting grain to Black Sea facilities in neighbouring European Union countries, with Bulgaria able to offer at best 600,000 tonnes a year in capacity, and Constanta in Romania already choked.

“In Constanta, a huge queue about 100 barges are waiting for discharging,” he said, adding the port lacked sufficient floating cranes to handle bigger volumes.

“All these ports were built only for local needs.”

There was “only one solution” to Ukraine’s export squeeze, and that was “international support to open [the country’s] Black Sea ports”, which could require Western navies protecting convoys of grain vessels.