The major part of the country is formed by plains (95%) with the Carpathian range and the Crimean mountains forming the west and south borders, respectively. Rivers such as the Dniepr, the Dniestr and the Danube are the main water resources and waterways, and most of them are over 100 km long. Ukraine is situated in a temperate zone, with a climate of moderately continental type; only its southern coast (Crimea) can be classified as subtropical/Mediterranean. Flat steppe and forest-steppe zones with the top soil formed of rich chernozem are an ideal combination for agriculture in general and for the establishment of highly-mechanized agriculture in particular. However, the presence of numerous gorges and gullies on the plains testify to severe erosion, so the prevention of soil degradation is one of the most important factors in soil conservation policy.
With over a quarter of the worlds chernozem and 56.5% of all of the land being used as arable, Ukraine relies heavily on its agriculture as a major source of export revenues. However, serious economic constraints (loss of the Russian market, unemployment, inflation-recession, failure to achieve privatization, etc.) and ecological problems (Chernobyl, soil degradation through excessive use of agro-chemicals, etc.) have had a serious impact on agriculture.
The total area of Ukraine is over 60 million ha, of which 42.5 million ha is under agriculture. Traditional crop production includes: field crop cultivation, grass farming, vegetables, fruits and nuts. Grain production is of prime importance in field crop cultivation and is combined with industrial, fodder, vegetable, melon and gourd cultures and potato crops. Within the structure of crop areas, grain crops account for 46.6%; industrial 11.7%; potato, vegetables, melon and gourd, 6.6%; and fodder crops, 35.1%. Grain production can reach 35-45 million t/year, the major grain crop being winter wheat, followed by barley, maize, rye and oats. Leguminous plants of high protein content include peas, beans, fodder lupin, soy and forage crops. Industrial crops include sugar beet (50% of the total area sown to industrial crops) and sunflower (40%).
Land tenure and rural infrastructure
Land and agricultural reforms aimed at splitting large-scale collective farms proved difficult to implement. As of January 1999, practically all kolkhozes and sovkhozes were transformed into collective agricultural enterprises with specific structures and legal status, mainly that of joint-stock companies, peasant associations, cooperatives, etc. However, the majority of enterprises were privatized with little change in their organization, size and management. Accordingly, the financial situation of these new ventures continued to worsen and suffered severe losses.
Since 1997, there had been a marginal increase in the number of individual farms in Ukraine, explained by the lack of production incentives, legislative and political uncertainties, lack of seed capital and insufficient access to credit. Small plots of cultivated land continue to constitute the subsistence lifeline for the great part of the urban population. Strong disagreement within the government over land issues prevented any major developments in land legislation. A Decree was passed authorizing the sale of non-agricultural land, but the issue of sale of agricultural land is still pending.
Supply of agricultural machinery from the state on a lease basis was disappointing. Leasing of machines (with final buyout) resulted only in 40% of farmers repaying in grain their total commitment. Proposals to re-structure and write off this debt are still pending. Ukraine produces competitively priced tractors and heavy-duty trucks, but primarily for export as the cost of such machines is exorbitantly high for farmers
The role of women is predominant in all sectors particularly in agriculture. Over 65% of work is being carried out by women.
The Ukrainian Seed Law of 15 December 1993 regulates the production, processing and use of seeds and sowing or planting material of agricultural, ornamental, medicinal and forest plants. The seed sector is under state control, through the Ministry of Agriculture, which in turn delegates programming and planning of the seed sector activities to the Academy of Agrarian Sciences. Subsequently, implementation of the seed programme is carried out by the agricultural institutes and their experimental farms. Some 32 such institutes and 125 experimental stations, employing in total over 1 500 staff, of which 25% held higher degrees, operate throughout the country. Among the most important and significant ones are the Institute of Plant Production V.J.Yurjev and the Institute for Vegetable and Melon Growing. Ukraine is not a member of UPOV nor has it acceded to ISTA.
The seed sector, because of the current financial constraints, is severely hampered, particularly in its research domain.
Because of its fertile and unique chernozem soil, combined with the dry weather at harvest time, Ukraine has had a long tradition in plant breeding and in supplying improved germplasm and Pre-basic seed, particularly to the republics of the former Soviet Union. Following independence in the early 1990s, and the breakdown of the old economic order, plant breeding has suffered significantly, with the production of quality seed declining considerably, leading to a virtual standstill in exports.
Breeding of varieties at the national level is the responsibility of the Ukrainian Academy of Agrarian Sciences and its institutes, as described previously. Breeding activities specializing in testing new plant varieties cover the entire spectrum of species: cereals, especially maize, sugar beet, sunflower, soybean, oilseed and fodder plants.
Concurrently, private breeding activities have started in the form of joint ventures between foreign trading firms and Ukrainian partners. However, the high cost of seed produced (foreign varieties and hybrids) and their insufficient growth adaptability and capability for local conditions, has resulted in the emergence of informal breeding activities among farmers. Considerable quantities of seed of local varieties of valuable germplasm are thus exchanged between farmers. Several expeditions conducted by institutes have shown that local farmers grow valuable landraces of spring rye, beans, gourds, caraway, poppy and some old cultivars of maize and other crops.
The law on Conservation of the Environment of 25 June 1991 has provided the basis for further development in areas of conservation activities and stipulated the nature and extent of territories eligible for protection in the major geo-botanical regions.
Variety evaluation, registration and release
The formal regulatory framework for the seed system has evolved gradually since the disintegration of the old system, and the Government of the Ukraine has endeavoured to establish a new form of variety and seed legislation. In this connection, Ukraine has developed legislation on plant variety protection in accordance with UPOV guidelines.
The State Commission of Ukraine grants PBR for Testing and Protection of Plant Varieties, a body under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Agriculture and Food. Currently, tests in accordance with established procedures (from two to four years according to crop) are carried out for DUS on a limited number of species, such as winter wheat, spring barley, durum wheat, sunflower and rye. The list of registered varieties is included in a specific Register of plant varieties.
Seed production is undertaken by large concerns under the seed breeding institutes or in limited cases under contractual arrangements by seed companies (including foreign concerns). For cereals, the cost of seed is about double that of grain.
Production standards reflect those traditional in the former Soviet Union, namely: for cereals and fibre plants, Pre-basic seed comprises Super Elite and Elite; for fodder plants and small-seed legumes, it comprises Super Elite and Breeding Elite; for fodder grasses and oil plants, it is limited to Breeding Elite.
Seed testing, certification and control
The Seed State Certification Inspectorate is responsible for field inspection, control and certification of seed and vegetatively propagated material throughout Ukraine. Seed for the domestic market is open to control by the producer, subject to the licensee being the owner of the variety, which in turn must be officially registered. Currently seed certification is limited to local distribution since Ukraine is not affiliated to ISTA, merely following its methodology. Accession to ISTA is imminent, following the pre-requisite completion of adequate seed testing laboratories on national territory.
Seed processing, storage and supply
The same institutions involved in seed production are responsible for seed processing, storage and supply activities. Preparatory works on the draft for a new act on marketing of seeds have not yet been finalized. Currently, admission of varieties authorizes the marketing of seed.
The specialized institutes listed above are actively engaged, despite financial constraints, in research on wheat varieties, as well as on maize, soybean, vegetables, melon and gourd. Biotechnology applications are limited to wheat.
Agricultural institutes and research centres regularly conduct training in the form of seminars, in-service training and extension practices for the benefit of students and other technical personnel. Such training normally covers water management, pollination, storage, quality control, and market demands and business management.
Plant genetic resources
Following independence in 1991, the Academy of Agrarian Sciences established and financed a national coordinating programme responsible for the formation, mobilization, introduction, investigation and identification of the genepool, and the creation of a genebank of plants in Ukraine. Accordingly, the National Centre for Plant Genetic Resources of Ukraine was established within the V.Y.Yurjev Plant Production Institute in Kharkov. The principal objective of the Centre is the creation and maintenance of a national plant genebank and to that effect collection and conservation of plant genetic diversity is being carried out. The Centre is thus involved in collecting new PGR samples for its genebank from Ukraine and abroad; investigating and studying genepool samples; adequately storing specimens in the national depository for seed; registering valuable plant germplasm samples and maintaining a computerized information system on the Centres genetic resources activities.
The Centres genebank includes 118 000 samples, belonging to 250 cultivated and 300 wild species of cereals, maize, leguminous crops, industrial crops, fodder crops, vegetables, medicinal and essential-oil-bearing plants, potato, grape and forest and ornamental plants. Its computerized information system has accumulated data for 67 000 accessions stored in the genebank.
In 1999, the Centre has introduced over 7 000 samples, including 2 000 from Ukraine. It is also involved in expeditions to collect germplasm locally and abroad.
As a result of intensive and extensive research studies, 11 000 samples were transferred to breeding, research and other educational institutions and 3 000 samples were utilized in breeding programmes. Some 15 000 samples of 147 plant species are deposited in the Centres storage complex. The Centre is also actively engaged in the implementation of FAOs Global Plan of Action and maintains working contacts with genebanks, breeding and scientific institutions worldwide.