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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Fodder Shortage Leads Pigs to Early Slaughter

Livestock farms are short of feed, but it remains unclear who is to blame f foreign humanitarian aid, low import tariffs on meat or poor management of privatized collective farms.

NTV television Monday reported on the monster Zalesye private collective farm in the Yaroslavl region, which used to have up to 58,000 pigs before perestroika.

Now only about 6,000 pigs remain, about 4,000 of which face slaughter because of the feed shortage, farm officials said.

In the NTV report, skinny pigs that have been fed on peat instead of grain recently were hungrily sucking the iron bars of their pens as their deaths loomed.

"We are trying to sort out the problem," Zalesye's director Sergei Golubev said in a telephone interview.

"We are desperate," said Vladimir Tikhomirov, head of the Yaroslavl Svinoprom organization, which unites eight of the biggest farms in the Yaroslavl region.

Before perestroika, Yaroslavl farms produced up to 11,000 tons of pork a year, Tikhomirov said. In 1999, the production figures plummeted to a mere 3,000 tons, and "in 2000 barely 2,000 tons will be produced," he said.

Among the reasons for the slump, Tikhomirov cited the high price of fodder in relation to the low price farmers receive from meat companies; low import tariffs that make foreign meat tough competition; and large humanitarian aid shipments to the region.

"Everything is getting more expensive. The prices of mixed fodder skyrocketed from 0.8 rubles (2.8 cents) per kilogram last year to 4 rubles.

"To produce 1 kilogram of pork we now need 30 rubles to 50 rubles worth of fodder, and there are additional costs we have to bear, while our meat refrigerators pay only 18 rubles per kilogram of pork."

Tikhomirov said that for almost all last year, Yaroslavl's meat refrigerators were full of cheap meat shipped in as humanitarian aid.

"I wonder why all those clever heads in the [Agriculture] Ministry can't work out how much foreign meat we need here so that it will be aid, not something that will kill local producers," Tikhomirov said.

Zalesye's plight is typical for Yaroslavl farms, Tikhomirov said. At two neighboring farms, he said, not one pig remained; the others have next to no pigs, he said.

Since 1990, the nation's livestock herds have shrunk drastically: Of 20.7 million cows a decade ago only 13.1 million remain, while of 40 million pigs only 18 million are bred now, according to the Agriculture Ministry.

The Yaroslavl administration's agriculture department was not available for comment Monday. A source in the administration, however, said Zalesye was itself to blame for its problems.

"They are privatized, but receive a lot of state subisidies," the source said. "They were even given cash to reduce their cattle numbers."

Iosif Davidovich, a farmer and chairman of the local Farmers Association, said private farms in Yaroslavl consider pork production unprofitable for the same reasons Tikhomirov gave.

However, Davidovich said, local shops take the pork he produces for 35 rubles a kilogram f which is just enough to cover his costs.

To be fair, selling the fresh meat of three or four pigs is much easier than handling sales of meat from hundreds of pigs, he said.

Zalesye looks to be in line for more state assistance.

Sergei Nesterov, deputy head of the livestock department in the Agriculture Ministry, like the Yaroslavl administration source, said the ministry allocated Zalesye 700 tons of feed two weeks ago that is to be paid for within three months.

Nesterov said the problems Zalesye faces are typical of only a few of the nation's big farms that have poor management.

The Agriculture Ministry estimates farms need 1 million tons to 6 million tons of fodder to survive the next month until the next harvest.

The ministry is assessing several ways of obtaining animal feed, including reducing import tariffs on grains, delaying value-added tax payments, reducing internal transport tariffs within the country and applying for food aid from the United States.