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1308 PD: Latitude 57

Mike Gangwer Published on 29 August 2008

I am on assignment in Russia for two weeks. I will write three articles about this assignment; this is the first one.

For this article, I am writing about the assignment itself … why I am here, what I hope to accomplish and some general comments about the area of interest.

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Yaroslavl Oblast is just north of Moscow, 11 time zones to the east of the Pacific Coast. My flight here took 16 hours in three airplanes. After a one-day brief in Moscow, I took a coach train to Yaroslavl. The journey took five hours with two stops along the way.

This part of Russia is 57 degrees north latitude. The growing season is quite short. The people here are largely farmers and factory workers. Another description might be blue collar workers. Unlike the lights, action and multiple construction projects/sites of Moscow (ten million people and growing), the primary city here, also named Yaroslavl, is just over 700,000.

The city is part of the Golden Ring of cities that surround Moscow at a distance of 250 to 300 kilometers or about 175 miles. The city is 1,000 years old. It’s home to many old churches, monasteries, and historical buildings. Interestingly, less than 10 percent of the local people attend church services, but they are allocating a lot of money towards rebuilding these old structures. In fact, in nearly every village a church or monastery is currently being renovated. Much of the work is done by hand and wheelbarrow so progress is slow by our standards.

I am housed in the Tourist Hotel that is at the end of Lenin Street, overlooking the Volga River. This is a huge river that carries a lot of commerce. Both raw materials (gravel, coal, timber, and oil) and manufactured goods (tires, home furnishings, fabric, and heavy equipment) are taken south to Moscow in large barges. The river system is highly polluted, unfortunately, with industrial contaminants and likely radioactive isotopes from old age nuclear power plants. By the way nuclear power is the energy source for this entire region. I have electrical power 24 hours a day, as compared to my intermittent power availability in Tajikistan just eight months ago.

The infrastructure of the city and out in the rural landscape is remarkably “Old Russian.” Specifically, I describe this as functional, not aesthetic. The aesthetic beauty is found in the pastoral settings of the grand churches and monasteries that dot the countryside. They are certainly evident in the cities and villages, too. But often in a small village that does not have the hint of anything beautiful (in my opinion anyway) a church is found that is quite lovely. I am visiting many of them and they will be the topic of another article.

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My primary assignment is working with the management staff on a large farm. Large, in this case, is 2,200 dairy animals, and several thousand hectares. In fact the land base is just under ten thousand acres and growing. The farm, called Pakhma Farms, is owned by a general director (70 percent ownership) with another group of off-farm investors (30 percent ownership).

My task is to help the managers integrate the different farm systems into a more efficient model. For instance, the dairy farm managers should be talking with the crop farming managers, and this group should be talking with those responsible for marketing what is produced on the farm. Yes, fairly simple but in practical terms not easily accomplished.

For the first few days, I have visited all the production sites and taken inventory: what are the capacities of these facilities and in general, to what extent are they ahead of depreciation. I have seen milking parlors that mirror ours, but on several of the dairy farms the cows are in tiestalls. To their credit, the managers are grazing the lactating cows about four months every year. I have visited many hundreds of cows on pasture, and they look like any pasture-based farm in the US.

The feed storage facilities are concrete bunkers for grass silage, pole barns for hay, and large steel tanks for grain. The typical housing barn is freestall, except for the occasional tiestall barn, with 200 cows per barn. The manure is scraped with an alley scraper or gutter cleaner (tiestall barns) directly into a large manure wagon that is emptied every day. The only waste storage facility on the farm has failed; the push-off wall has collapsed and there are no plans to fix this problem. The manure is stockpiled in the crop field using solids as a berm and then slurry is contained inside. The manure is land-applied in the fall. Much to my disappointment, I could not convince the managers that this valuable resource should be applied to crop fields in the spring.

The farm has a milk processing facility. The only product is fluid milk, and that makes sense given its location of just a few kilometers from the city boundary. Generally, older people buy most of the milk; younger people prefer something else. In fact, one real concern in Russia is the decline of milk drinkers in young people. Many of them prefer vodka and other alcohol. Trust me this is a real problem in both boys and girls, and many civic leaders are wondering how to reduce alcohol consumption. The farm managers themselves are generally my age or older. Another real concern on this farm is young people no longer want to work on it. If educated, they take the train south to Moscow and earn many more rubles than they can on the farm. In fact, the general director stated that this was his number one problem ... finding workers. As you might expect, his “work-around” was purchasing machines to replace people (we do the same) and then importing other workers from other countries.

This later point, of importing workers, say from Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, or Belarus, is a huge worry for the local government here. Two days ago, I happened to visit the Minister of Agriculture here. His position is similar to a Director of Agriculture for a state in our country. He told me of two mandates for his office; increasing agricultural production and policing immigration violators. In fact, it is such a problem now that even I had to register my everyday whereabouts with the Migration Office.

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I am nearly ready to provide a summary report to the general director and his staff. Whether they follow it is up to them.

More next time, on this assignment in what is known as the Northern Caucuses. PD

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