Climate change helping Russia to cultivate ‘southern’ crops

The country is increasing not only wheat production but also soya bean output

Global warming has brought many natural disasters in recent years, but it has also enabled farming on lands where it was considered impossible. For Russia, new arable land means a stronger position in the global wheat market as well as access to less familiar crops like soya beans.

Russia’s Siberia has seen its warmest spring and summer on record, reports World Grain. Although the unusual weather resulted in a record number of wildfires and the worst pest invasion in years, there appears to be a silver lining for Russian agriculture, as the country stands to gain a considerable amount of arable land if the trend continues. According to some projections, Russia may acquire as much as 4,3 million square kilometres of wheat-suitable land in its northern regions allowing the country to become a consistent grain exporter in good times and bad. By 2028, Russia, which was a net grain importer only 30 years ago, is expected to control 20% of the world’s grain export markets.

But besides the prospect of expanded wheat acreage, the country has the potential to increase its soya bean output with increased acreage on the vast plains of its northern territories. China has already purchased land in Eastern Russia to plant and harvest soya beans, as the Asian state is locked in a trade war with its largest soya bean supplier United States. Calculations by BBC Russian show than around 400,000 hectares of land in Russia is leased or owned by companies with Chinese capital.

In 2020-2021, Russia is expected to rank seventh in soya bean production. Given that the country has quadrupled its production compared to a decade earlier, it seems ready to become a bigger player in the global soya bean market with the assistance of climate change.

Crops that were previously considered “southern” are shifting to the north all over the world. Canada planted about 6 million acres of soya beans in 2019, which was more than double compared to 2009. Central Russia has increased its soya bean acreage 18-fold over the last decade. At the moment, soya bean quality and logistical issues are preventing Russia from capturing anything but a small slice of the Chinese market, so it is unlikely to become a threat to the United States and Brazil soya bean producers in their fight for Chinese market share in the near term, considers World Grain. However, if more land becomes available in Siberia thanks to the warming trend, it may attract additional investment in agriculture and logistics in that region. Over time, Russia can become an attractive supplier to neighbouring China, and even if it doesn’t gain a large share of the export market, the country’s expanding livestock sector guarantees growing domestic demand for soya bean-based feed.

By Anna Litvina