The managing director of Kuban Agro, the farming arm of tycoon Oleg Deripaska's
business empire Basic Element, has hit back at claims of dishonesty among
Russian farm workers – seeing a shortage of staff as the sector's real problem.
Andrey Oleynik, managing director at Basic Element's
agribusiness, dismissed as "completely wrong" the comments by Velcourt, the UK-based
farm consultant and investor, that singled out Russian agriculture workers in
accusations of "endemic" dishonesty, and of a lack of accountability in
"There are situations like that. There are workers like
that," Mr Oleynik told Agrimoney.com.
"But you have to look at the situation on an individual
"There are dishonest workers in any sector, starting with
the statesman, to the collector of the rubbish.
"But to generalise, and pick on agriculture, and Russia, is
The real staff issue
Where Russia did have an employment problem was in finding
sufficient staff, particularly trained and qualified workers, to drive the
improvement of a Russian agriculture sector running well below its potential.
"Right now, we are suffering a shortage. People are not
willing to take jobs in the agriculture sector, as they do not like the idea of
working in rural areas," he said, urging programmes to introduce more young
people to farming.
While luring extra workers might require raising wages,
eroding the low salary base which has helped Russia remain a tough price
competitor on grain markets.
However, it would be a price worth paying, Mr Oleynik said.
"Sure, you would pay higher wages. But you would get higher
"You would get better yields per hectare, and better profits
Indeed, the potential for Russian agriculture is "huge", if
the country could make the most of its assets.
"Grains production might reach 150m-170m tonnes," nearly
twice current levels, "and exports might be 50m-70m tonnes. And within the next
10 years," he said.
"It could happen even sooner than that."
After all, Russia, unlike many other leading agricultural
nations, has plenty of land to spare, with "only a little over half"
prospective farmland being used.
"Everywhere in Russia, agricultural land can be increased,"
he said, although naming in particular the Amur region in the east as a
potential site for development.
"We could increase harvests of all types of crops."
'Not enough tractors'
But making the most of this asset also means improvements in
mechanisation, as well as staffing.
"We are behind Europe in technology. We do not have enough
tractors in Russia," possessing half the coverage of high powered tractors, on
a per-hectare basis, he said, urging cheap loans and subsidies to encourage
farmers to improve their machinery fleets.
The idea of farm equipment upgrades is one in which Mr
Deripaska's Basic Element empire, of which Kuban Agro – with its 86,000
hectares of land under cultivation, and operations from elevators to dairy to
elevators to sugar refining – is just one part.
Basic Element's Russian Machines business last month
unveiled a joint venture with Agco, the maker of Massey Ferguson and Fendt
tractors, to set up a manufacturing plant near Moscow.
Basic Element's other operations stretch from airport
services to banking, although Mr Deripaska whose net worth is $8.5bn, according
to Forbes, is perhaps best known as chief executive of Rusal, the world's
largest aluminium company.