May 10, 2022
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And what about potatoes? Will we take mashed potatoes again from Lukashenka?

In the photo: sowing potatoes in the Beloyarsky district of the Sverdlovsk region

In the photo: sowing potatoes in the Beloyarsky district of the Sverdlovsk region (Photo: Donat Sorokin / TASS)

Potato planting is in full swing in the country. The regions report on the high pace of work and the increase in sown areas. By what miracle did the Ministry of Agriculture get out of the poor students into excellent students?

Recall that at the end of last December, Chairman of the Federation Council Valentina Matvienko called the work of the Ministry of Agriculture and the Ministry of Education and Science on the development of domestic seed production unsatisfactory.

“Tomorrow they will stop supplying us with potato seeds, what will we do, what will we feed people with? I honestly want to say: both the Ministry of Science and Higher Education of the Russian Federation and the Ministry of Agriculture of the Russian Federation are not happy for the insufficient attention that you pay to the most important industry – the development of domestic seed production, ”explained Valentina Matvienko.

The speaker of the Federation Council was not at all impressed by the official reports, according to which the supply of domestic potato seed material is approaching 15%, sugar beet – 20%, more than 10% of the territory is sown with seeds of domestic selection. “Do you consider this a feat? We need to set a different bar, we can’t do it this way: a teaspoon per hour,” Valentina Matvienko responded. At the same time, she called the indicators on the provision of domestic seeds “paper, not real”, and promised to take this issue under strict control of the upper house of parliament.

And a month later, the head of the committee of the Federation Council on agrarian and food policy and environmental management Alexey Mayorov summed up the interim results: the indicators under the ongoing programs for import substitution of potato and sugar beet seeds should reach 75%, but in reality “the situation is close to catastrophic”.

However, in the spring, the disaster did not happen – the sowing of potatoes, and beets, and other crops dependent on imported seeds, is in full swing.

And in this, as it turns out, there is absolutely no miracle. And the assessment by the speaker of the Federation Council of the work of the Ministry of Agriculture and the Ministry of Education and Science is still relevant: “Until we have dill seeds, lettuce, potatoes, corn and everything else, you will still be unsuccessful or [сделаны] relevant conclusions.

– Stocks of imported seeds were created in advance, before the sanctions. Enough for this year. And how the situation will develop next year is, of course, a big question. Andrey Churakov, Head of the Center for Breeding and Seed Production, Krasnoyarsk State Agrarian University:

– But the potato program under the federal program for scientific and technological development (FSTP) of agriculture has been operating not so long ago to say that it does not bring results. For potato growing, this program ends in 2025, and all planned figures for the production of domestic potato seeds should be achieved by this date. Here is the feature here.

Potatoes have one of the longest periods in seed production. There, first, the source material must be created, then the first and second seasons of field reproductions of the super-elite pass, and only then – the elite. That is, it is five or six years before the elites. Before it can act as a seed material from which crops can be grown, including marketable potatoes. Therefore, now there is only an operating time, the source material is being prepared. And, then, in this program, the goal was not to replace foreign varieties by 100% with domestic ones.

“SP”: – In many regions of the country, the sowing of potatoes, beets and other seed-dependent crops is already in full swing. Enough seed?

– For potatoes and other crops, for example, rapeseed and beets, where there is dependence on imports, seed stocks were created in advance, before the sanctions. Therefore, this year, problems, in principle, should not be. How the situation will develop next year is, of course, a big question. And the second point is that here, in Russia, branches of both the Netherlands and German companies for the production of seed potatoes have long been established and are functioning.

And if back in the early 2000s they imported the elite to us and carried out seasonal reproductions of the first and second years, and then realized the production of marketable potatoes, in recent years foreign firms in our country have been producing the raw material. That is, test-tube material is brought in, we cut it and produce tubers of the first and second generation. Plus, domestic selection is being improved due to the federal program, the volumes are increasing, somewhere their own structures are being created from scratch, somewhere something that was abandoned in our country is being restored. Therefore, I think that this year there will be nothing critical for the seeds of potatoes and other crops – rapeseed, beets …

“SP”: – Why is the main large-scale production in Russia focused on foreign seed material?

– This is most evident in the beets. About 98% of sugar beet hybrids are foreign varieties. Now our breeders are trying to sharply increase the volume, but it is impossible to solve this issue in 1-2 years. In addition, we have only two enterprises participating in the FSTP for sugar beet – they, of course, cannot provide the entire required volume of marketable beet. Moreover, all modern beet growing is based on hybrids. That is, to sow all these areas, you need to get a hybrid material.

As for potatoes, there are many nuances, one of which, of course, is a habit. At one time, domestic potato growing was in the pen, few people paid attention to it. Potato growing is based, first of all, on selection. And in order for the results of selection to be manifested in production, seed production is necessary. He was also gone for a long time. And, of course, the marketing of foreign varieties and the volume of supply played a role. They pushed our varieties out. And plus – their selection is carried out at a different, more intensive pace, since modern selection methods are used.

And accordingly, in the last 20-25 years there have been two or three variety changes of foreign varieties and one variety change of our varieties. Naturally, such rates do not keep pace with the needs of production. In addition, selection in many of our institutions is carried out in the old fashioned way: without the involvement of modern methods, source material etc., etc. Although there are now institutions that are fully staffed and carry out advanced selection, they get results no worse than foreign ones. But again, these are volumes that cannot be increased to the required level and replace varieties in 1–2 years.

“SP”: – And therefore, Russian companies did not seek to invest in the development of domestic seed production, even taking into account the fact that, under the terms of the FNTP, they had to invest only half of the requested funds – 50/50 with the state?

– This program should have a customer that is engaged in potato production, that is, a commercial organization that grows ware potatoes, and it should set a task for a scientific institution to achieve the planned results for the production of elite. But not always commercial interest coincides with scientific interest. This is natural, since the scientific one is a longer period, it is a big investment, not always a quick return. Commercial enterprises have a different interest – a quick result. So that’s why there’s such a mismatch.

In addition, people are accustomed to certain varieties and are ready to grow them. And they are not ready to change something, to try something new – this must also be taken into account. But those who joined the FSTP program understand that they must grow domestic varieties, since government co-financing is aimed at developing domestic potato production. Let’s hope that now this federal program will work in full.

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