Greenhouses could help cut imports of fruits, vegetables
the amount of glass greenhouses dropped in 2011 from 407 hectares to 384 hectares. Surging gas prices mean greenhouses have to cut margins or find alternative energy sources.
“Vast majority of green houses, especially the old Soviet types, were heated with gas. They are very sensitive to the price of gas,” says Strelyuk.
Firtash has an obvious advantage. He controls a sizable chunk of Ukraine’s fertilizer supplies. A former partner of Russia’s Gazprom in the supply of gas to Ukraine, Firtash-owned Ostchem continues to import fuel into Ukraine at an undisclosed price that is negotiated separately from the state.
As small to mid-sized farmers increasingly complain about expensive fuel, fertilizer and loans, Firtash seems to have all the resources at his fingertips to heat up greenhouses and enrich the nation’s already superior Black Soil.
Asked whether he would heat up his own greenhouses with his own gas and fertilizer at subsidized prices, giving his farming businesses a competitive advantage, Firtash conceded that the share of energy expenses in the cash cost of DF Agro’s products is around 50 percent. But, he added: “The gas business is not related to the greenhouse business. Yes, I’m a shareholder in both businesses, but they are not related. These are two different companies.”
Not all Ukrainian greenhouses are so energy intensive, though.
Warm and sunny Crimea benefits from a mild, hospitable climate.
“There are more (plastic film greenhouses popping up) each year … and they are very profitable,” Yarmak said.
Experts say investments into greenhouses are a solid bet, if the main risks and potentially large heating costs can be contained.
“More people are trying to lead healthy lifestyles by eating more vegetables and fruit. Demand will grow,” said Lesya Sukhodolska, a spokesperson at Ukragroconsult, a leading domestic agribusiness consultancy. Export potential is another driver. “Many interesting projects are being discussed,” Strelyuk said.