Ukrainian agribusiness doesn’t consist only from holdings-giants, who rent half a million hectares of land and produce grain, eggs, sunflower oil, sugar, and chicken. In their shade, there are thousands of medium-sized and small farmers. They are not interesting to investors, and investors are not interesting to them. It is much more important for the owners of little farms to have a permanent and satisfied buyer, for whom they can supply fresh meat, milk, strawberries … This article tells a story of a farmer from Yampil in Vinnytsia region, who is engaged in one of the unique niches of Ukrainian agriculture.
Meet Andrew Deregryb, a 30-year-old from the village of Bila, who has been cultivating strawberries and exotic plants in the village for five years. By education Andrew is biologist-geneticist. He graduated from the T. Shevchenko National University of Kiev. Andrew had been looking for a job of his life for a long time, tried various types of jobs, sought a better fate in Italy, was engaged in the manufacture and export of wood for expensive furniture, parquet, and even coffins. He became disappointed in those activities and decided to return to his native village and invest money in his own business – the cultivation of strawberries. He rented his father’s and grandmother’s land and grew strawberry plantations, which now occupy 55 hectares of land.
“The basis of planting are the varieties of the early group – Clery and Honeoye. They are stable and in any weather produce a harvest. Among new varieties, I have Alba, Joly, and Rumba, the latter is an improved by the Dutch version of the Honeoye variety. It is 40% more productive, delicious, and less acidic. Berries are bigger and firmer, which plays an important role in their transportation. Rumba variety has a disadvantage – berries have lost their smell in comparison to Honeoye”,
– tells the farmer while strolling along strawberry rows.
“Joly variety is the most specific among all varieties we have. Now the plant has yellow leaves. I think it is a sign of a low level of magnesium or iron. This variety has strong roots and leaves, but it doesn’t look good on our soils,”
– adds Andrew.
There is enough work in Andrew Deregryba’s strawberry garden even in the fall. Everything starts with the autumn plowing, fertilization of the land, cultivation, and preparation of the rows for strawberries. The raised rows act as natural shelves and make it easier to harvest berries. The passages between the rows are laid with hay or straw. This technology is beneficial for the owner because it accelerates the process of harvesting and protects the berries from getting dirty during the rain. The ground under the row is covered with an agricultural film, which protects the plants from drying and overheating and prevents the growth of weeds. Also, it adds an average of 5 degrees of heat to the surface of the soil, which significantly accelerates the ripening of the berries, as well as condenses rain vapor.
“The garden bed is 1.2 m, and passages are about 60-80 cm. Before dividing the plantation, it is important to decide how watering of plants will be carried out. I have installed drip irrigation. With the help of a pump, I get the water from the Murafi river”,
– tells the owner.
Last year, the farmer bought 5 thousand new varieties of seedlings. He sells his for 2 – 5 hryvnias per one on the market.
“I constantly change the varieties, but they need to be tested on our soils first. It is also necessary to pay attention to how they behave in winter, because some may freeze at 21 degrees below zero, and some may freeze at 25 degrees below zero. You should also pay attention during low-snow winters, because buds may freeze. I can only sell those varieties that are well acclimated and behaved well for no less than two seasons”,
– says the gardener.
During the conversation, Andrew stresses that conditions of high air humidity and low temperatures during the fruiting period sharply reduce the harvest. That is why he advises keeping about 30% of the common varieties. The Honeoye variety in particular, which will compensate for the “losses” due to other varieties. It gives up to 20 tons per hectare.
“2016 was a very specific year regarding temperature regimen. In the spring, the temperature was 15 degrees above zero. Clery and Joly varieties could not produce good berries. They were smaller and became sour because contained less sugar”
The farmer says that this year, on May 5, the market was filled with berries, and this happened not in Yampil only. In the district center, Andrew has two retail places. He mainly works with a buyer from Vinnytsia who pays extra if the berries are not treated with fungicides. (Fungicides are chemical compounds or biological organisms used to kill or inhibit the growth of fungi and their spores. They fungicides penetrate inside the plant, spread through the vascular system and inhibit the development of the pathogen due to a direct impact on it or as a result of the metabolism of the plant).
“Those who are afraid to take risks, buy berries in bulk and require special chemical treatment of plants, so that the berries will look attractive for a long time. But according to the standards, it is also important to cool the berries in special cells. The fungicidal treatment program with Horus and Switch is allowed on the European market, but it must be done 60-40 days before the berries are harvested. We do not these rules here, and people (especially young children) suffer from this, as they eat berries with the accumulation of pesticides. We start to perform preventive treatment with biological fungicides (living organisms used by farmers to protect plants during their vegetation from diseases caused by fungal and bacterial pathogens) on March 15th, when temperature regimen is favorable, and the plants are in a state of active photosynthesis”,
– says the farmer.
The leaves of strawberries are treated with colloidal sulfur (25 grams) and copper sulfate (70 grams) per 10 liters of water. These are contact drugs, standard in use for all fruit and berry crops. Colloidal sulfur kills an acarus on plants and bacterial cultures including fungal infections on strawberries. Copper sulfate also expands the sulfur action spectrum and destroys the remaining fungal infections. Thus, leaves are protected for a period of time.
“There are two pathogens which you cannot fight with contact drugs – powdery mildew and noble rot. They live in the soil. The pathogens get into the vascular system of the plant as the result of the contact of the ripe berries with the earth”,
– adds Andrew.
The gardener also stressed the importance of using fertilizers made from natural ingredients such as straw and sunflower husks.
“Sunflower husk contains a lot of potassium, and when decomposing in the ground, it allocates a certain amount of nitrogen and phosphorus fertilizers. After harvesting, you need to add stubble destructor to a drip irrigation system. It breaks down everything that is under the plant. This year we saw everything under the plant split into two parts – fertilizers and a layer of sunflower husk”,
– says Andrew.
Due to an unstable temperature regimen, the farmer has collected 3.5 tons of strawberries.
The average price was 18 hryvnias and 50 kopeks. The price is low because most berries were ready to be sold between May 15 and June 15, when the supply of berries significantly exceeded the demand due to the fact that people lacked money. A good price was in May (from May 5th to 15th) – 45 hryvnias per kilogram, and then in June and July (from June 15th to July 20th) – 40 hryvnias per kilogram. (Unfortunately, during this period, we did not have any berries at all). This year, farmers who grew super-late strawberry varieties have earned good money, as prices on these seedlings have grown now. Although, it ‘s hard to say what the next year will be like.
The farmer doesn’t use different growth boosters because they are too expensive. Prices for growth boosters are mostly in foreign currency, and they should be used systematically. For such a small business as Andrew’s, it is unprofitable.
The largest berry weighing 60 grams, the gardener got thanks to the French variety Darselect, which is protected by strict patent law in European countries. What is interesting is that the berries have a strawberry-apple flavor.
Farmers from the villages of Bila, Galzhbievka, and V.Kysnitsa are well aware that working with land is difficult, and sometimes not revarding. People learned this truth in the process of growing tomatoes and cucumbers. Often, heavy physical labor and low sale prices make people reluctant to continue the business. Andrew does not spare his hands while growing strawberries but he also loves to taste his berries.
“I had an agreement with the local housewife Marichka Hnidyuk, from whom I bought 1.5 liters of sour cream per day. We made natural yogurts from berries that were not good enough for sale. I could eat up to 3 kg of strawberries during the day. I gave the berries to my one-year-old daughter who despite the risk of allergy, felt good after eating them”,
– says the hostess.
In the autumn, Andrew advises filling the drip irrigation system of strawberries with potassium fertilizers, which increase the accumulation of sugar in plants and increase plant’s frost resistance for more than 5 °C.
In winter, when there is no work, Andrew and his wife Tatyana, who is also a biologist, work on the development of their website. A couple is working on writing articles, promoting goods throughout Ukraine, looking for new customers.
At the moment, Andrew is considering cultivating decorative evergreen trees, which are now popular abroad. In addition to strawberries, the farmer planted goji bushes also known as Chinese desert-thorn. Its berries are somewhat similar to Ukrainian Blackthorn but have more convex berries. Fresh goji berries can’t be used as they contain poison, but in the dried form it is a real treasure trove of vitamins and microelements. Andrew explains that for a full fruiting the plant needs a number of active temperatures up to 3000 °C, but the acclimatized varieties are completely satisfied with our 1800-2200 °C. From one bush you can get up to 1.5 kg of dried berries, which can then be sold to tea companies. According to Andrew, in the city of Yampil there is no great demand for goji berries, but in general, plants are bought in Ukraine and grown on the large areas.
Contest article Svetlana Nakonechnaya