Young Swiss finds Future in the Ukraine

What do you get when you mix Canada, Switzerland and Zambia? – the Ukraine! At least that’s the impression I got listening to Franz Stamm. I was at a Fleckvieh breeders association meeting last week. After the business portion, Stamm (no relation) showed pictures of his brother’s farming operation in the Ukraine and talked about the challenges and opportunities involved.

Switzerland doesn't have room for young farmers without land.

In Switzerland, with intense competition for every available piece of land, Moritz Stamm would never have his own farm. In the Ukraine there are large tracts of very fertile land to be had. After spending two years working on a farm there, he decided to take the risk and start his own business. Today he successfully rents and operates a farm of 1550 hectares.

The farm used to be part of a collective out of the communist time. After that it was given back to its original owners, all 500 of them, who now rent it back to Moritz. It’s not possible to purchase land in the Ukraine; only buildings and machinery.
“Immigrating to the Ukraine is very interesting but it can also be very difficult,” Franz told us. The Ukraine is politically instable. Corruption is rampant.

The Swiss farmers around me kept laughing. The dimensions, the whole situation is so different from their world. They laughed when Stamm said 1550 hectares was small compared to some of the big farms of 10,000 hectares and more. Just as they laugh whenever I tell them we have a small grain farm in Alberta – 550 hectares. Of course. Here the average farmer has 30 hectares. If someone has 100 hectares he’s a really big farmer.

They laughed again when Franz said his brother used to own pigs but the feed kept wandering home with the Ukrainian workers. So he got rid of the hogs. I think of Zambia where theft is so common on farms that it is an allowable expense on the tax return. It’s a strange concept in a safe world like Switzerland, or Canada.

The pictures of the local market also reminded me of Zambia – food, clothing, household goods are all sold under the open sky. There are supermarkets some distance away, but the locals can’t afford to shop there. Most local Zambians can’t afford to shop in a supermarket either.

The expansive fields and wide sky reminded me of western Canada. But the machinery seen on most of the pictures didn’t. It’s old, rusty, from another generation. Franz said much of it is in operating condition and the workers are very good at repairs. One of the first things Moritz did was to import a new Class combine so he could get his first crop off on time.

The risk has worked well for Moritz, but success has come at a price. More than once he’s been robbed. Once he was mobbed and beaten. “You can hardly trust anyone, not even those from the west,” Franz told us. It’s not an ideal place to raise a family; good schools are not readily accessible.

Going back out to the chill of a European winter I thought, “If I was going to emmigrate, I’d go to Zambia. At least it’s warm there!”

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