John Kopiski, is a British born, present Russian citizen who owns a large dairy farm ‘Rozhdestvo,' in the Valdimir region of Russia. He maintains a dairy herd there of 4000 cows, producing over 10,000 liters of milk a year, per cow. He also runs a family agro tourism center, ‘Bogdarnaya' in Vladimir Oblast, some 100km from Moscow. John tells us his story and sheds light on the state of Russian agriculture.
John starts the program by describing his farm, and how he got into farming in Russia. "My history in the dairy business started some 20 years ago, when we purchased a close to ruined, old Russian ‘Kolkoz' (a Soviet collective farm), where there were some 300 cows and 127 workers. Looking back I can say that I did this with some ignorance and arrogance, not having been a farmer before. Nonetheless, I was fully aware of how the European Union worked with their subsidies since 1957, I thought and calculated that the support and assistance I could get in Russia would be tenfold better. It didn't turn out that way, at least for the first 10 years. We worked the old farm for 5 years, which was a very expensive lesson for me, but it was a very good lesson, and in that period, we worked our way through a minefield of experience, found local support from the authorities etc. Then, over 20 years ago, we managed to buy our first 400-500 hectares of land. We built a church and became part of the local community, and although we improved efficiency considerably, and reduced the workforce by over 70%, we still couldn't make a profit. This was mainly due to the fact that the lands we had purchased were water meadows — very beautiful — but we couldn't do anything on them because there were very strict ecological laws and restrictions. Regulations which prevented us ploughing or fertilizing the lands; hence we could not grow our own forages to a quality and quantity needed. 15 years ago we had to make a tough decision; close the farm or move on! We decided to move on and built one of the first so called modern dairy farms in Russia. We now have 4000 cows of which 1700 are being milked every day, and every day we produce something like 55 tons of milk. We also work today on over 4000 hectares of land and we produce our own corn silage; grass silage, hay and grain. We employ over 200 people in the region."
Russian agriculture seems to be enjoying somewhat of a boom. Even the Financial Times, which has traditionally taken a rather pessimistic view on the Russian economy, has reported that agriculture in Russia is doing well. John comments: "The so called boom started well before the sanctions. The sanctions have helped to provide a sort of umbrella for development but investment in dairy farms started well over ten years ago when the government introduced a program called ‘The National plan.' At that time, huge investments into pig, poultry, meat farming were made, well before the sanctions. The process was perhaps slow to gather momentum, but over ten years ago a program of special finance for agriculture was started under a Federal program and these results can be seen today. It was slow to catch on because there were changes to be made in management attitudes etc., and equipment. Today not only do we have major Russian-owned enterprises but many new foreign investments, in a very large way. In central Russia and now in the Far East of Russia, we have huge investments from South Korea, Vietnam, Thailand, Singapore and even from Europe, particularly from Germany and Finland. We have so much land here that's not used at the moment. I understand that some 15,000 South Africans are moving to Russia to help us develop the business even more."
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