Marat Akhmetov: ''Bread – it is politics, we have to carefully follow the price dynamics''

The minister of agriculture of the Republic of Tatarstan about a possible price increase for grain, problems with low purchasing prices for milk and the greetings to Putin

Marat Akhmetov: ''Bread – it is politics, we have to carefully follow the price dynamics'' Photo: Oleg Tikhonov

A briefing on the results of the autumn fieldwork was held in the Cabinet of Ministers of Tatarstan on 9 October. High purchase prices have helped where there was little harvest — they have compensated for lost revenues. This, according to the minister, caused his split personality: on the one hand, it is good for farmers that prices are high, on the other — it is not very good for consumers. In general, Marat Akhmetov considers the current season satisfactory, but he refused to evaluate his personal work for the benefit of the republic: he says that only idiots rate themselves.

By 1 million tonnes of grain less

This year has not been distinguished with high yield. The goal was to harvest 5 million tonnes of grain, but they have harvested 3,7 million. The average yield amounted to 26 centners per hectare. The reason is in the dry summer, half of the mean annual values of precipitation fell. However, Marat Akhmetov immediately advised not to blame on weather conditions. In some areas they have managed to grow a decent crop without rains.

This year has not been distinguished with high yield. The goal was to harvest 5 million tonnes of grain, but they have harvested 3,7 million. Photo: Oleg TIkhonov

''I have no leverage to influence final prices''

Given the low purchase prices for sugar last year, this year sugar beet crops have been reduced, respectively, it has been harvested less – 2,2 million tonnes instead of 3 million. But a more attractive price has smoothed the difference in income, Akhmetov says.

''The cost of sugar is closer to 40 rubles per kilogramme, there had been no such prices in the last three years. Due to this, both agricultural firms and processing plants have had the opportunity to compensate for lost revenues.''

The problem of the previous year — low purchase prices for milk. According to Akhmetov, they hit Tatarstan more noticeably than the neighbouring regions — the number one republic by the production of marketable milk.

''We have 4,000 tonnes a day — it is noticeable. We have received by 3,5 billion less revenue from the sale of milk than last year.''

With low purchase prices — by 2-3 rubles less than manufacturers would like, the retail prices remain high.

''Unfortunately, I have no leverage to influence the final prices. We work with the already highest possible cost of milk. When we bought at 17 rubles per liter, the prices in the stores did not decrease. The difference affects wholesalers and retailers. If a federal law was adopted to divide the share for the producer, processor and seller, then justice could be brought, but today there is no such law — these are dreams. Although, rumour has it that this factor will be taken into account. We'll see.''

With low purchase prices — by 2-3 rubles less than manufacturers would like, retail prices remain high. Photo: Roman Khasaev

''I have two 'egos'': contradictions in the minister's soul

Taking into account the smaller grain harvest by 1 million tonnes and the increase in purchase prices, there are prerequisites for a rise in the price of bread. Tatarstan citizens, apparently, follow the figures and every year eat less bread — 260 grams per person per day, Akhmetov cited the figures, which means that the rise in price will not hit the family budget. But they still do follow the price changes.

''Bread – it is politics, we have to closely monitor the dynamics of bread prices. We gathered with millers and bakeries, agreed not to revise the prices for social breads. We do not monitor bakery products made from high-grade flour, but we agreed to introduce subsidies on social bread. We have worked out the mechanism in any case, but we have not used it so far.''

According to Akhmetov, he is satisfied with grain prices this year — they are twice higher than last year, when, as the minister put it, ''they shamefully sold below the cost price at 4 rubles per kilogramme''.

''But I have two 'egos' — very favourable prices for producers, but there is a rise in price of products. It may be necessary to introduce a mechanism for subsidizing social breads. Today the prices are optimal both for baking and producers,'' the minister of agriculture noted that he ''noticed that he has a split personality''.

Akhmetov did not appreciate the 'bootlicking' and wished the authorities of the country the priority attitude to agriculture

In general, Marat Akhmetov was satisfied with the results — low sugar beet and grain harvest compensated for higher purchase prices. The harvest of vegetables has remained at the level, as these fields are provided with forced irrigation. Arid and warm summer, on the one hand, affected not quite favourably the grain harvest, on the other hand — favourably on high-margin heat-loving crops that are actively grown in Tatarstan in recent years — sunflower and rape.

Arid and warm summer favourably on high-margin heat-loving crops that are actively grown in Tatarstan in recent years — sunflower and rape. Photo: Oleg Tikhonov

A journalist of the departmental edition of the ministry of agriculture at the briefing, congratulating on coming day of the agricultural worker, asked the chief to estimate not the work of agrarians, but himself on the post of the minister — after all, it is going to be 20 years since Akhmetov has hold this chair.

''I am not an idiot, I am not going to rate myself,'' Akhmetov did not appreciate the 'bootlicking'. ''If the year would be record breaking and it would be something to boast about… Although you know, you, as an x-ray, see me and the results [of the work], so the question you had was semi-provocative.''

While Akhmetov and journalists were summing up the results, in Stavropol Putin and Medvedev were discussing the development of agriculture. The Tatarstan minister was asked what questions he would like to raise before the top leadership of the country.

''There is the federal ministry, which has to control the situation, I don't think that the country management isn't informed on the condition of agriculture. For me, agriculture is most important, but there are many other strategic issues that can be considered at the highest level. We will wait until for the priority will be higher,'' Akhmetov stated.

By Daria Turtseva
Tatarstan