The August 2016 edition of the monthly exchange letters between IFBF and AKKOR (the Russian Private Farmers Organization).  IFBF and AKKOR have been sharing exchange letters and articles between Iowa farmers and Russian farmers since 2012 in an attempt to increase our understanding of each other and as a part of our "citizen diplomacy" efforts. 

Good time of the day to you, Iowa farmers! This letter comes to you from the Ural Mountains that separate European and Asian parts of Russia. It is coming to you at the time of the national rural census.

When one thinks about census, there seems to be no place for emotions, - it just means facts and numbers. But a cluster that was discovered during the ongoing census surprised even seasoned “numbers” people. What they discovered was a farmers’ cluster that is comprised of what we know as a “complete agribusiness cycle”, – beginning with production and ending up with the consumer delivery chain.

Listen to one of the coop’s founders, - Sergei Sharov who is well known in the area for his innovative approaches and his love for experimenting.

“It was a no man’s land, - says Sergei. When we arrived here it was just a field, with no infrastructure, nothing! First, we took care of a power line. Then, drilled a water well and bought some Canadian pedigree Heifer cattle. Next spring we were celebrating the arrival of the first calves.

But then – a lightning struck, - our cattle was diagnosed with brucellosis. We started losing our herd and ultimately had to do away with that first batch of the cattle. That did not stop us and we purchased 30 Heifers that started our beef herd, 200 swine and 5 horses.  We also grew grain and harvested hay for feed. Now we owe 4 Russian-made combines”.

His son, Vitaly, after graduating from a college returned to the farm and is working with his father now. The father and son have added value to the beef production by opening a line that produces a Russian delicatessen called “pelmeni” = dumplings, also a Southern more spicy variety of dumplings and ground beef cutlets (little burgers that are breaded and fried on a pan in some oil).

Sergei employs 10 local residents and uses his wit to remodel old pieces of Soviet era machinery. Just look at the picture above: parts from different pieces of machinery produced a “custom made tractor”. And it works too!

A neighbor, Sergei Kulpin, followed suit and made not only a tractor but also a herbicide sprayer.

The question was: Why private farmers decided to create a coop. The answer is: The decision was market-driven. 

Alexander Gladilov, a regional AKKOR chairman, says that working hard and producing agricultural products alone proved not to be self-sustainable. Middlemen paid them peanuts for their produce, practically stealing it from the farmers. So, the idea of a coop that will loop in 30 out of 62 private farmsteads in the area popped up. The responsibilities are shared now, For example, one farmer, - Boris Baturbayev, opened a dairy processing facility where raw milk is pasteurized and packaged, and where cream and sour cream are made.

Another farmer, Ivan Shimanov, built a cheese making line that supplies low fat cheeses, such as feta, mozzarella, Adygei cheese. Yet another one, - Yerlan Yaksher, has a horse herd and makes “medicinal kumys” (kumys is the horses milk that has been known for centuries in home remedies as having strong medicinal powers).

Sergei Sharov also processes meat from the local farms at his meat locker.

The same farmers’ cluster is engaged in grain production. They add value to barley by brewing a soft drink called “kvas” which is very popular in Russia. This variety is new on the market because it uses yeast-free and sugar-free technology.

Other near-term plans? Build grain storages, a flour mill and a mini-bakery. Eventually, the farmers are going to build a good-size meat processing plant.

Local authorities are also interested in the economic development. To make such projects more attractive to the share-holders, local authorities have “gifted” an abandoned former incubator building to the coop. The calculation is simple: if they can build new pieces of machinery from the old ones, they will be able to restore and repair a building that will house a mini-agro processing plant. 

This is all well and good but how to deliver your product to the consumer without being “robbed” by middlemen or trade monopolies? Local farmers are thinking in that direction too. Many producers who label their products as “Natural and Ecologically safe” in many cases is just a label and a fake.

Local cluster has developed a logo that will guarantee the quality of the produce and ag. products that are sold under their name and they will bear collective legal responsibility. This seems like a good plan that we shall work towards!

Our best wishes to you, Iowa farmers, at the time when you are getting ready to harvest your crops!

Your AKKOR friends