A self-sufficient Russia, that’s what the Russian government wants. The country’s fruit and veg sector is also to become as independent as possible from other countries, by 2020. The sector still has to undergo serious change though. In 2013, 800,000 tonnes of tomatoes and 200,000 tonnes of cucumbers were still imported. That year, Russian greenhouses supplied 630,000 tonnes of vegetables and herbs, meeting about 34% of domestic demand.
The construction of a 12 ha greenhouse. Now the construction is finished and the greenhouse is used for cucumber growing.
Russian horticulture was in a sorry state until recently, due to low vegetable prices and high maintenance costs, but since the Russian government made self-sufficiency a top priority several years ago, investments have been made in the sector again. Government subsidies are not just available for greenhouses, but also for facilities like infrastructure or power supplies. Horticulture profitability has improved significantly as well. Thanks to the rise of the middle class and global interest in fresh food, demand for fresh vegetables has increased.
Sergey Berdnikov has been active in the Russian sector for years. First for a Dutch greenhouse builder, and recently for his own company: GreenAgro Projects. “At first, a lot of rose greenhouses were built, but in recent years it’s nearly all food crops. Tomatoes, but mainly cucumbers.” Henk van Tuyl of greenhouse builder KUBO says the company is very active in Russia as well. “Great projects can be realized.” Characteristic of the Russian sector are the large centres being realized now. “Smaller than ten hectares is regarded small. That’s related to the Russian ambition. Everyone wants as big as possible,” Berdnikov sees.
A project of KUBO.
Despite the favourable circumstances, Russian greenhouse horticulture has had a turbulent year, with the fall of the rouble slowing down the sector’s development. “Just before the new year, the exchange rate went up to 100 roubles for a euro, from the normal 45. It was just the crucial period to decide. Many projects were postponed, and you can’t win back that time,” Berdnikov says. KUBO have also noticed this. “From the second half of last year, it started to become more difficult for investors to get projects started. It seems most of them are delaying their plans for now, says Van Tuyl, who also points to the high interest rate: 12.5%.
These developments have delayed Russia’s quest for self-sufficiency as well. That’s why a new Russian Minister of Agriculture was appointed in April. Aleksander Tkachev is to develop the Russian agricultural sector further. In June, the Ministry of Agriculture selected 49 horticulture projects to support national production. By subsidizing these projects with 20%, around 345 hectares of greenhouses are to be built, so there are still plenty of opportunities for the Dutch greenhouse builders, even if the Russians clearly prefer their own materials.