Iowa State Field Agronomist Mark Licht Volunteers in Ukraine

Through CNFA 's Farmer-to-Farmer program, he helped advise farmers there how to improve their corn and soybean production practices.

Published on: Apr 20, 2010
Mark Licht, an Iowa State University Extension field agronomist, recently returned from a volunteer assignment to Ukraine where he advised farmers on how to improve crop production practices. Licht's trip was part of a project with CNFA, a nonprofit organization dedicated to empowering people and enterprises in the developing world.

Licht visited eight different farms as part of his assignment, which allowed him to get an idea of the challenges and opportunities prevalent in the corn and soybean sector in Ukraine.  He used his experience advising Iowa producers to help Ukrainian farmers adapt some production approaches popular in the U.S. to improve their own yields and aid effective decision making.

"My farmer hosts in Ukraine were gracious and hospitable. They were very inquisitive and asked a lot of good questions," says Licht. "We discussed seed selection and I advised them on planting dates, seeding rates and use of seed treatments. I learned a lot about their crop production practices and their culture."

Ukraine has soils similar to Iowa and potential to boost yields

Licht was surprised by the farm structure in Ukraine, where farms are commercialized structures owned by investors, unlike the family-owned farms prevalent across the Midwestern United States. The disjuncture between farming and ownership in Ukraine leads to several issues including quality control.

Dryness is a greater issue in Ukraine than in Iowa, but Licht noted the soil was similar in some areas with high organic matter and water holding capacity.  Because of the lack of good agricultural equipment in Ukraine, many producers import older, used equipment from Germany, the United States or Brazil.  Despite cultural, structural and technological differences, Mark noted many similarities between farmers in Iowa and in Ukraine.

"Ukraine has the potential to be very productive if management practices keep up with the pace of agricultural progress," he notes.  It was a two-week trip to Ukraine, which was known as the 'bread basket" of the former Soviet Union. "I was working with progressive farms and some of them are planting corn and soybeans for only the first time," explains Licht.

Ukraine has good land, but lacks infrastructure, money for inputs

The "Soviet Era" is over and given some time and resources, Ukraine will improve its corn and soybean yields, he adds. At this point they have the capacity to produce 180 bushel per acre corn, but only 30 bushels per acre soybeans.

"Ukrainian farmers have several limiting factors that distinguish them from us," says Licht. "First, they run short on rainfall during the heart of the growing season. Their main growing area only gets 10 to 12 inches of rainfall the entire year. Second, they don't have access to transgenic seed because of limited ability for seed to be registered with their government. And third, they have limited access to applied crop production research."

For information about Farmer-to Farmer program contact CNFA

Licht traveled to Ukraine under the United States Agency for International Development (USAID)-funded Farmer-to-Farmer Program, which provides voluntary technical assistance to farmers, farm groups, and agribusinesses in developing and transitional countries to promote sustainable improvements in food processing, production and marketing.

Licht lives in Carroll, Iowa with his wife and two sons. He grew up on a family farm near Clare and is a 1997 graduate of Manson Northwest Webster High School. He has bachelor's degrees in agronomy and Extension education from Iowa State University and a master's degree in soil science from ISU.

For more information about the Citizens Network for Foreign Affairs Farmer-to-Farmer program, go to Projects range from training associated service providers and agribusinesses in financial management, marketing, cooperative development, agricultural production, post-harvest and processing technologies, international quality standards and rural finance.