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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Farmers Take Back Seat at Own Fair

ST. PETERSBURG — Farmers were conspicuous by their absence at one of the nation’s largest agricultural trade fairs held in St. Petersburg.

While the fair was called the Russian Farmer Exhibition, the central place at the exhibition belonged not to individual producers, but to large food-processing firms. Press releases for the event last week had predicted the participation of about 300 farmers, but the majority of those present fitting that description were honey producers and, along with a small number of farmers with rabbits, goats and chickens, their place was outside the main exhibition hall.

The main exhibition space inside was taken up by over 900 companies involved with the processing and sale of foodstuffs, rather than their production.

Ilya Mikhailenko, head of Leningrad Region Consulting, which provides free marketing and production information to farmers in the Leningrad region, said this had to do with the large amount of foreign food products entering the country to be processed by domestic firms.

"Today the emphasis has shifted from the manufacturers to processors," Mikhailenko said.

As a result, the central place at the exhibition was occupied by large local firms such as the Parnas-M meats concern, Baltika breweries and Ravioli, which produces frozen, prepared foods such as pelmeni and beef patties.

At the exhibition’s opening, First Deputy Agriculture Minister Anatoly Mikhalyov suggested analysts overstate the share of foreign firms in the food market, saying the percentage of food consumption coming from domestic producers is 97 percent for produce and 57 percent for meat and dairy products.

Lev Anikin, a member of the organizing committee for the event, agreed more with analysts’ assessments of the local agricultural sector.

"Farming is really in trouble today and it’s probably true that, of the 300 so-called farmers, only a few could really be considered farmers," Anikin said. "All the same, at this exhibition we try to create a small model of the market to help both farmers and manufacturers find clients and investors."

According to statements from the representatives of larger companies, St. Petersburg and Leningrad region manufacturers were satisfied with the exhibition results.

"Of course we couldn’t skip such an event," said an official at Parnas-M, who asked not to be identified. "We’ve had about 20 offers for business deals each day, right here at the exhibition."

"This is also a great opportunity to enter the national market, as representatives from the regions are also here and are showing a lot of interest," the official added. "However our main aim is to raise our profile."

"There really are a lot of visitors, and for us the exhibition is a chance to advertise our products," said Alexander Shekhovtsov, a marketing specialist at the Irbitsky Motorcycle plant, which produces Ural-brand motorcycles that were famous in the Soviet Union. The company also produces small-farm machinery and lawnmowers.

"We’re not looking for contracts with dealers. We’re presenting new models with angled forks — more in the style of American choppers," Shekhovtsov said. "People can touch them, see them up close, and understand that Russian products are of good quality."