Russian agribusiness enjoys rapid growth of biotechnologies
12.01.2015 / Farming Monthly
Though Russia has one of the largest areas of arable land per capita in the world, imported food supplies still make up about 40% of the domestic market. Kuban Agro, a part of Russian industrial diversified group Basic Element, has massively invested in R&D in biotechnologies back in late-2000s, and now enjoys the first results that will propel the country’s self-sufficiency in agro sector.

Test-tube calves make up the future

An international market of the pedigree livestock has always been very tight with supply exceeding demand. Russia has been largely relying on import, buying 100,000-150,000 cattle per year worth hundreds millions of dollars. However, as the import is shrinking and dairy farms are still in dire need of new calves, Kuban Agro is rapidly developing its Embryo Biotechnology Center focused on animal genomics.

An embryo transfer allows to produce embryos of high-yielding cows, implant them to surrogate mothers of any breeds and develop pedigree calves. This method, widely used all over the world, is relatively new for Russia. Being one of the first agribusinesses to adopt an embryo transfer, Kuban Agro is expecting to get 72 calves from 100 cows.

In late November the company celebrated the first major achievement in animal breeding when an Ayrshire cow, a surrogate mother, gave birth to a Holstein-Friesian calf. The latter breed is considered one of the best milk producers that give 7-8 tons of milk annually. By the end of December over 40 Holsteins drew the first breath at the Kuban farm.

Test-tube calf breeding has proved its efficiency since it’s 30% cheaper than cattle import and the herd’s renewal is quicker as one cow can bring up to seven calves per year. Kuban Agro is going to increase its investment in the embryo technologies to $1 million in 2015 and spread the technology to other agribusinesses in Russia.

Innovations grow with the seeds

Agricultural innovations went even further as Kuban Agro established its own technology of a full-cycle seed production, from selection to sales, in 2008. Since 2010, the company’s specialists have produced 16 high-yielding corn hybrids of its own brand Ladozhsky that competes with Pioneer, Syngenta and Monsanto in yield crops. Ladozhsky corn yields up to 10 tons per hectare what exceeds the world’s top corn brands’ crop and is twice as much as the average crop in other agricultural companies.

Six years ago Kuban made a risky decision to develop its own seed selection since seed breeding was mainly carried out by specialized National Research Universities whose products however were not competitive against the foreign cheaper seeds.

In 2010, the company sold 40 tons of its two first corn hybrids, while just two years later the sales skyrocketed 18-fold to 700 tons as the additional two new hybrids were revealed. In 2013, over 2,000 tons of Ladozhsky corn was sold. Now the company sells over 3,000 tons of seeds and occupies 4% of Russia’s corn market.

Kuban Agro pays a great deal of attention to seed production and cow breeding since Russia is especially dependent on import in these spheres. The company plans to invest $3 million in the development of seed breeding by 2019 and increase production of corn from 5,000 to 10,000 tons per year. It will help to boost a market share to 12 percent and decrease the dependency on imported products, a strategic goal that Russian agribusinesses pursue.