Agriculture has become of huge interest to Vladimir Putin and business leaders in Russia, particularly interesting is the rise of organic indoor farming. Why? The investment and markets crowd paint a picture that the Russians just don’t have what it takes to succeed. They already tried agriculture, and failed miserably. They don’t have the technology, or up to date equipment. Of course, these people are talking about monocropping, computerized mega tractors, pesticides, etc. But Putin’s farms are growing organically, and it appears they’re in error…
This development is met with the conjecture that it’s probably poor quality wheat – only fit for animal feed. The analyst suggests levels of contamination could be too high for it to be of any value, but these are only assumptions. You know what they say – never assume anything. Like assuming that sanctions would change Putin’s point of view. It did, but every road heads in two directions.
Even though it was sanctions and volatile import prices that brought this rebirth of national food production about, Putin is ahead, not behind. While they may indeed need to acquire new tractors and implements, Russia holds lots of water, and a vast expanse of the richest soil on the planet. Since it has not been in constant production under a Big Ag program, that natural nutrient base is still there sans residual pesticides. It’s also 3-4 feet deep, unlike cropland in places like the US Heartland where a good field still has 12 inches of arable soil. This comes from a most interesting article by William Engdahl, strategic risk consultant and author, who reports that the wheat and grains exported from Russia is indeed organic. It’s also very high quality. Meanwhile, he says, Heartland grain quality is below par.
So, it’s not so surprising after all, that Russian farms can outproduce all other countries in export grains. But man can’t live on bread alone. Take a look at what’s under that headline in the photo above: Russia is now the world’s largest exporter of cilantro. And the most efficient way to grow cilantro? Hydroponics in an indoor farming system, which is well… hi-tech. So, saying that Russia lacks the modern equipment or technology with which to pull off Putin’s goal of eradicating his country’s reliance on imported foods appears incorrect.
Let’s look past the posturing of Wall Street and the Big Ag cartels. First of all, we know that you can grow organic crops with the most basic equipment, and without the latest pesticide and seed technology. Secondly, since Putin banned GMO seed and food imports last November, stating that Russia would only grow good, healthy food… Big Seed is naturally a bit miffed over the snub. Banning even GMO ingredients from food with totally transparent labeling isn’t likely making him a favorite with Big Food either. And organic? Well, ‘everyone’ knows you can’t feed the world that way.
But Putin could care less about feeding the world, though exporting the surplus is definitely of economic interest to him. His concern is feeding his people good, healthy food, regardless of what happens elsewhere around the globe. The best way to ensure that is having a nation that has total food self-sufficiency. He wants to achieve that by 2020, because most of the food in Russia is imported. No doubt the climate has a lot to do with that, and oil and weapons exports have been the major economic. But oil is a limited resource, and food is perpetually renewable. And non-GMO organic food is perpetually in demand – somewhere. All GMOs are banned in Russia.
The shining star in Russia’s blossoming organic indoor farming industry may be operating in an existing greenhouse complex built years ago, but it is massive. And they aren’t film-wrapped hoop houses. In fact, the Yuzhny Agricultural Complex has an incredible amount of climate-controlled growing space – over 132 million square feet (almost 356 acres). And while the structures themselves were already in place in the 1990s, if kept in good repair, with some environmental control updating, there’s no reason they cannot produce a lot of food, continually and reliably.
And Yuzhny is churning out a lot of fresh, pesticide-free vegetables for the Moscow market. The huge greenhouse complex uses sustainable practices that include all water supplied from a nearby mountain’s pristine ice melt. Production for 2015 was 43,000 tons of hydroponic tomatoes and cucumbers grown in a system that looks no different than operations in the US and Europe. Yuzhny is in the process of updates and expansions allowing for a 70% increase in annual harvests. Like an echo from Kimbal Musk, the wealthiest businessmen in Russia also see the promise in growing the future of organic food. They’re investing in everything from land to dairy operations, and new greenhouse complexes.
An article in Bloomberg this summer makes much of a Russian hybrid tomato, the T-34 battle tomato. According to the author, it is the star of Yuzhny harvests, but what is most interesting about this is not the name of the tomato coming from the tank that defeated Hitler. There are no images of this particular tomato being grown there. So, if you were this new power grower with an incredible hybrid tomato that gave you heavy production with great flavor that also transports very well, and is a big hit with consumers – wouldn’t it be the crop you’d want to make sure the photographer for a major international publication gets at least a shot or two of?
The T-34 tomato is not in one image in this splashy feature story. The photos show a large slicing tomato throughout the article. But T-34 is a cluster type with fruits like a grape tomato! How odd that a fruit said to be “a symbol of patriotic capitalism” is not proudly displayed. It’s not like it’s something top secret. No one can grow it without the seeds. It’s just a tomato.
And there’s a lot more going on in indoor farming than is easily found. A new 238 hectare greenhouse complex is underway in the Kaluga region. The video below shows the partially completed phase one block installation by the Dutch greenhouse company, Dalsem, in coordination with the automation expertise of Hoogendoorn. More hi-tech growing on a massive scale. Here they will produce organic tomatoes, cucumbers, herbs, and lettuce using state-of-the art hydroponics and computerized environmental control under the guidance of a Russian manager, and a greenhouse growing consultant from the Netherlands. The complex produces it’s own energy, and the auxiliary crop lighting design includes both overhead and intermediate fixtures.
Local and national government is encouraging small farms, as much as large industrial growing. There’s a keen interest in building local economies, and incentives to build a self-sufficient food system include subsidies and reduced energy rates. In some regions, free land is available for people who want to get into agriculture. And China is investing in this new development too.
It will take a lot of food production to feed the largest country in the world, but they’ve already accomplished quite a bit toward the goal. And while there are those who seem to think this is simply not possible, it is doable, thanks to indoor farming and sustainable practices. The reason agriculture failed before? In addition to the climate, there was no ownership or financial gain. Why excel when just going through the motions was sufficient to stay out of prison? Farming in Russia will be totally different than it was in the past. Now there are reasons to succeed.
- Greenhouse Expansion in Russia (Dalsem)
- Trading Kalashnikovs for Tomatoes
- Putin Growing Organic Power
- Sustainable Pulse
Interested in keeping an eye on what’s up in the indoor farming industry in Russia? You won’t find anything from the Greenhouses of Russia website through standard searches. It’s their national association’s blog for news and info on technology, inputs, cultivars, etc.