By now, wheat planted late last year waves in fields across Ukraine. Spring crops of sunflowers and barley are turning swaths of dark earth into a fuzz of bright green. But with Russia’s war being waged in some of the most fertile regions of Ukraine, uncertainty looms over summer harvesting.
Ukrainian farmers braved a war zone to carry out close to 80 percent of spring planting, covering roughly 14 million hectares. Still, Russia’s invasion has raised fears that not only are this year’s crop yields in jeopardy, but also that Ukraine’s agricultural output could be diminished for years. At the root of this worry, in part, is how warfare impacts soil.
Ukraine is home to some of the most fertile soil in the world, making it a top global producer of cereals, such as wheat and maize, as well as seed oils like sunflower oil. The country’s exports feed millions of people from Europe and Africa to China and Southeast Asia.
With the war in its fourth month, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations estimates at least 20 percent of Ukraine’s crops planted in winter will remain unharvested or went unplanted. And despite farmers’ best efforts, many spring crops went unplanted. This summer’s winter wheat harvest could be cut approximately in half (a loss of about 2 million hectares) and sunflower products cut by a third.
With warfare able to degrade and contaminate soil for years, crop yields — and the people who depend on them — could suffer long after a cease-fire.
“In many ways, the welfare of the soil system in postwar nations is really intricately tied to the welfare of the people,” says soil scientist Asmeret Asefaw Berhe of University of California, Merced. “And in many ways, it’s going to dictate their long-term future, too.” [Continue reading…]