Friday, June 20, 2008

Steppe it up

It's a growth industry says a Russian investment bank:
The Moscow investment bank Troika Dialog says that just 43[%] of the arable land in Russia is cultivated. Crop yields in... leading ex-Soviet states remain at pre-modern levels. Yields can be doubled in Russia, and tripled in the Ukraine using modern kit and know-how. "The potential is tremendous," said Kingsmill Bond, Troika's chief strategist.

The great leap forward may at last be underway as the clutter of Soviet-era restrictions are broken down and Russia's new found wealth pours into high-tech farm investment. It comes in the nick of time. World corn prices are flirting with the once unthinkable level of $8 a bushel - up fivefold in little over two years. This has lifted the entire nexus of grains in its wake as farmers switch to corn. Soybeans are up 84pc in the past year.

....Troika's pitch is that investment funds scrambling to buy land - almost anywhere, at any price - on assumptions of a Malthusian food crisis are likely to face a rude shock. "The consensus view that the world is running out of land is a fallacy," said the bank.

....Land costs roughly $1,000 a hectare in the region, compared with nearer $9,000 for good soil in Iowa and $7,500 in Champagne. It is not easy to buy. In Russia, locals can at last purchase farms, although the ownership laws are a tangle and it takes two years to get a title from the land cadastra. Foreigners have to work through complex system of subsidiaries.

In Ukraine, it is still impossible to buy land. Political paralysis is expected to block the new property law until 2010 or beyond, so long leases are the only way to operate for now. This will change.

"There is a spectacular amount of money about to go into the Ukraine," said Mr Bond. The country has a ready-made network of railways with links to the Black Sea, some dating from Tsarist days when Ukraine's black earth farms supplied all Europe.

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