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Digging into the ‘why Ukraine matters’ Facebook post

Erica Louder for Progressive Forage Published on 04 March 2022

What a time to be alive. Practically overnight, the news switched from the pandemic to the Russia-Ukraine conflict.

There is a lot to dig through on what is going on and its implications, especially for agriculture. Over the last few days, many of my Facebook friends have shared a post that includes a map of Ukraine alongside a list of "why Ukraine matters." If you are on social media, I bet you’ve seen it too. The list breaks down how Ukraine ranks in areas of natural resources, agricultural output and industry.

Of course, I was immediately interested in the agricultural claims. I was somewhat skeptical, as one should be with Facebook posts. I decided to dig into the claims, and I thought you all might be interested in what I found.

The following text comes directly from the Facebook post. My comments are italicized.

  • Ukraine is the largest country in Europe by area and has a population of over 40 million – more than Poland. Almost true. Ukraine is the second- largest country in Europe, next to Russia, with a total of 233,031 square miles. The population of Ukraine in 2020 was 44 million.
  • 1st in Europe in terms of arable land area. According to the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO), arable land is land that is in temporary crops or land being cultivated regularly. Again, the statistic is almost true. Ukraine is second to Russia in terms of total acres of arable land (32 million hectares for Ukraine and 121 million hectares for Russia). They are second in terms of percentage of their total land that is arable. 56.8% of Ukraine is arable, just behind Denmark, where 59.8% is arable.
  • 3rd place in the world by the area of black soil (25% of the world's volume). According to the FAO, black soils are mineral soils with a black surface horizon enriched with organic carbon at least 25 centimeters deep. As I understand it, black soils have a high amount of organic matter and are in areas that have traditionally been grasslands, like the Great Plains. I couldn’t find any data supporting the statistical claims mentioned, but the FAO says that 68% of Ukraine’s arable land is considered black soil.
  • 1st place in the world in exports of sunflower and sunflower oil. This is true. In 2020-21, Ukraine exported 5.27 million metric tons of sunflower oil, accounting for 46.9% of the global total. The number two country, Russia, supplied 29.9% of the worldwide total.
  • 2nd place in the world in barley production and 4th place in barley exports. This statistic is outdated. In 2021, Ukraine was fourth in terms of total barley production worldwide (behind the EU, Russia, and Australia) and was third in barley exports.
  • 3rd largest producer and 4th largest exporter of corn in the world. Again, the statistics is outdated but not wholly untrue. In 2019, Ukraine was fourth in corn production (behind the U.S., China, Brazil and Argentina).
  • 4th largest producer of potatoes in the world. This statistic is outdated, but it is to the benefit of Ukraine. In 2019, Ukraine produced 22.5 million metric tons of potatoes, placing them third in the world behind China and India, followed by Russia and the U.S.
  • 5th largest rye producer in the world. In 2019, Ukraine was the fourth-largest producer of rye. However, that statistic is somewhat deceiving. The EU is the largest producer of rye, accounting for 69% of the world’s production. Ukraine is fourth but accounts for only 2.9% of the rye.
  • 5th place in the world in bee production. The data I found was for honey production rather than "bee production." The FAO ranked Ukraine seventh in total honey production, with 69,000 metric tons. China was first with 440,000 metric tons.
  • 8th place in the world in wheat exports. Again, this statistic is outdated. In 2021, Ukraine was ninth in total wheat production with 26.2 million metric tons. They are fifth in terms of wheat export dollars. Ukraine accounts for about 8% of total wheat exports. Combined, Russia, the U.S. and Canada account for nearly half.
  • 9th place in the world in the production of chicken eggs. This isn’t true. Ukraine does not appear in the top 10 for egg production. However, in 2020, Ukraine’s largest egg producer experienced a 200% decline in egg production due to political and economic pressures, so historically they may have played a more significant role in the egg industry.
  • 16th place in the world in cheese exports. I couldn’t find any evidence for this statistic, historical or otherwise. In 2019-20 Ukraine ranked 50th for cheese exports with $24 million. Germany was number first with $4.7 billion in exports.
  • Ukraine can meet the food needs of 600 million people. The claim appears to have come from an article written in February 2021 in the Kyiv Post by Vadym Ivenchenko, a member of the Ukrainian Parliament. He didn’t provide any evidence to support the claim, but I feel like the point of the claim is valid. Ukraine has a large and growing agricultural industry that feeds people outside their own country.

The conclusion of the post says, “Ukraine matters. That is why its independence is important to the rest of the world.” I’d follow that up by saying that Ukraine and the Ukrainian people matter regardless of their agricultural impact. Now for the implications for U.S. agriculture, your guess is as good as any. Stay informed, check your sources and pray for peace.  end mark

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