Nationwide seminar-conference on Belarus’ cattle breeding industry

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Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko took part in a plenary session of the nationwide seminar-conference on the country’s cattle breeding industry in Soligorsk on 22 September.

Upon his arrival in Soligorsk, the head of state showed immediate interest in the progress made in winter barley and rapeseed sowing works in Minsk Oblast. From the helicopter, Aleksandr Lukashenko used his helicopter trip to the region to assess the progress of work from above, and he had a few questions for the region's leadership. “You will remove corn by the time it is already the end of October. What winter crops will you be able to sow then?” he asked Minsk Oblast Governor Aleksandr Turchin. “I have not counted, and maybe I am wrong, but the impression is that you do not have even a half of your areas ready for winter sowing.”

The President instructed Deputy Prime Minister Leonid Zayats to take these issues in Minsk Oblast under special control.

According to the head of state, nationwide seminars on the most urgent issues of the economy has already become a useful tradition for the country. The current meeting is devoted to an important area for the country’s agro-industrial complex - livestock breeding, and the sector has a lot of problems to address, the President said.

“We partially touched upon this topic at the meetings with the officials of Gomel Oblast and Grodno Oblast. Today we will consider this issue on a nationwide scale: we will try to take stock of the progress made, analyze mistakes, get familiar with the best practices and, I am sure, find new ways to improve efficiency,” Aleksandr Lukashenko said. “The current situation in the country’s cattle breeding industry is simply unacceptable; we need to act, increase the responsibility of personnel for the results and, most importantly, to strengthen discipline.”

Cattle breeding plays a key role in the rural economy, the head of state emphasized. This sector produces more than half of all agricultural products and forms the country's export potential.

“Indeed, there are certain successes. The level of self-sufficiency in milk exceeds 260%, in meat - 130%. This means we fully ensure our own food security and sell the surplus to foreign markets,” the President said.

Last year Belarus earned over $8 billion on food products, and over $4 billion in January-August 2023. “At first glance, it looks good. But these figures are far from the ones we can have,” the Belarusian leader said. “After all, as you all know, the demand for food in the world is huge, prices are growing and will continue to grow, and new markets are opening up. It is simply a crime to sit idly in such a unique situation.”

It is vital to raise the domestic agriculture to a new level in order to earn more, he stressed.

The President mentioned the tactical plan for the development of the industry, which was developed back in 2019. The most important documents were also adopted, including strategies to develop the dairy and meat industries, the Rural Development Directive, the Agrarian Business Program, and a set of measures to step up fodder production). “We seem to have gone through all crucial points and taken everything into account,” Aleksandr Lukashenko said. He recalled that then the responsible officials promised to increase the production (cultivation) of livestock and poultry to two million tonnes by 2025, and milk production to up to 9.2 million tonnes.

The dairy herd productivity was to increase to at least 6,500 kilograms per cow, processing plants were to be loaded, the fodder base was to be qualitatively improved, cattle housing was to be upgraded, and breeding work was to make considerable progress.

The President turned to the main results achieved in the agro-industrial complex over the past 3.5 years and began with milk production figures: “The efforts to increase milk production are extremely slow. In 2022, we added only 1% to the level of 2021 (7.6 million tonnes). Judging objectively, this modest growth was provided by Brest Oblast, Grodno Oblast and Minsk Oblast only.”

The national average yield per cow was 5,518kg in 2022. The growth made only 2% and was ensured by the same three regions. “Gomel Oblast and Mogilev Oblast had it slightly over 4,000kg, while Vitebsk Oblast failed to reach even 4,000kg (3,960kg),” Aleksandr Lukashenko said. “Almost a quarter of all milk producers across the country and half of those in Mogilev Oblast and Gomel Oblast milked less than 3,000kg per cow on average. As many as 22 organizations did not reach the yield of 1,500kg per cow.

The President also named some anti-record-breakers, mentioning the annual yield per cow at 1,310kg in the Stolbunsky enterprise, Vetka District; 1,187kg at Sosnovy Bor,  Chausy District; and 1,018kg at Ptich Agro, Petrikov district, Gomel Oblast.

“This is no longer a cow and not even a goat. If it has been brought to such a state, it will give milk nowhere,” Aleksandr Lukashenko noted.

According to him, the statistics of the current year is not encouraging, either.

“Negligence at the local level can nullify all the efforts the state is making to develop dairy production,” the President stated.

The President believes that cattle-breeding facilities in Belarus need to be further upgraded and up to ten commercial dairy complexes should be built or reconstructed in each region in the coming years.

The head of state stressed that huge investments have been injected in the modernization of the industry. Half of all commercial dairy farms (1,600) are equipped with the most advanced technologies, account for more than 65% of the country’s milking herd and more than 70% of milk output in Belarus.

“We will continue modernizing cattle-breeding facilities in the country. The relevant decree has been adopted to build (reconstruct) 10 dairy complexes in each region in 2023-2024,” the head of state said.

According to him, it is necessary to move towards a complete transition from farms to modern dairy complexes. “We do not need farms. We need dairy complexes that ensure the best dairy farm solutions for high-quality milk production,” Aleksandr Lukashenko said.

Addressing the governors, the President emphasized: “From today on we will consider these new dairy farms to be your personal investment projects. We will see the returns.”

Speaking about the situation in the sphere of meat animal husbandry, the head of state pointed out that in the last ten years the year 2020 was the most successful one, with nearly 1.76 million tonnes of meat and poultry produced.

He noted: “But for some reason we couldn’t hold on to this achievement later on. Cattle production dropped in Gomel Oblast, Vitebsk Oblast, and Mogilev Oblast in 2022.”

Virtually every fifth agricultural enterprise across the country reported average daily weight gains under 400g. Almost every other agricultural enterprise in Gomel Oblast and Mogilev Oblast operated at this level of performance.

Aleksandr Lukashenko said: “Naturally, it is impossible to increase the growth rate of milk and meat output without increasing the livestock population. At the same time the number of head of cattle dropped year after year. It went down by more than 100,000 head of cattle over five years, including by 22,000 head of cattle in 2022. Cattle mortality is the main reason. 102,800 head of cattle in 2021 and 111,000 head of cattle in 2022. This indicator increased in 69 districts of all the oblasts last year. The highest figures were registered in Staryye Dorogi District (3 times up) and Soligorsk District (2.2 times up) of Minsk Oblast and in Shumilino District (2 times up) of Vitebsk Oblast.”

According to the head of state, 53 districts have allowed an increase in cattle mortality this year. In 14 districts cattle mortality exceeded last year’s level by 1.5 times. For instance, the loss of cattle nearly tripled in Chashniki District, Vitebsk Oblast and quadrupled in Krasnopoloye District, Mogilev Oblast.

“According to conclusions of all the oversight agencies, the reasons are simple: violations of the cattle management technology, mismanagement, and blatant slovenly work,” Aleksandr Lukashenko identified the problems and cited a number of examples. In some agricultural enterprises cattle was kept in insanitary conditions. Bedding material was absent. Manure was not removed in time. Diet norms and temperature norms were not observed.

The President reminded that last year he instructed the central government to team up with the oblast governors to work out a plan for every district and specify how and when order will be restored in the districts.

“But I am getting the impression that measures have been taken only on paper. Meanwhile, instead of oversight efforts municipal authorities and the state veterinary service help cover up the true state of affairs and outrageous mismanagement behind formal plans and comparatively satisfactory figures,” the Belarusian leader stated.

According to the Internal Affairs Ministry, as many as 480 criminal cases in relation to cover-ups of the loss of cattle were opened in 2022. The number has reached 205 this year already. It is a third of the total number of economic crimes in agribusiness.

“I think it would be wise to assign every farm to a specific employee of the district administration and every district should be overseen by a specific employee of the oblast administration. A list of names. So that later on it would be easy to understand who should be awarded if things work well and who should be reprimanded if they don’t,” the head of state suggested.

“There are also problems in the pig breeding industry. You and I discussed them in detail during a recent government conference. Concrete tasks have been assigned. Fulfill them. Accountability will be serious,” Aleksandr Lukashenko said.

Returning to the cattle issue, Aleksandr Lukashenko said that there was a problem with herd reproduction in the country. “Good productivity should be ensured, among other things, by well-managed selection and breeding work. Scientists believe that effective reproduction is the birth of 95 calves per 100 cows. In 1990 Belarus held this figure at 90 calves. In recent years, however, we have got only 72-75 calves per 100 cows. Moreover, we fail to even keep all the calves we get. That means that the cattle numbers are decreasing,” the President emphasized.

“I do not know what our governors lack. Are these reproduction technologies? The country has a whole network of breeding services under the patronage of the Agriculture and Food Ministry. I believe the new minister should cooperate with the Academy of Sciences, develop and implement an effective and affordable technology. The task is to increase the breeding herd. It is inadmissible that the farms that have been built or reconstructed, are still lacking livestock. Some of them have already been in such a state for more than five years,” the head of state said. “We have built complexes and have been unable to provide livestock there for five years. How is it possible?”

Aleksandr Lukashenko also pointed out that no animal can show good productivity and genetics without high-quality fodder, even with all the necessary conditions available. “Last year we failed with fodder procurement. This year the situation is even worse,” he said.

As of 1 September, about 7 million tonnes of fodder units were procured, which is less than 90% of last year's volumes. Fodder supply per head amounted to slightly more than 16 centners against almost 19 centners last year. Vitebsk Oblast, Gomel Oblast and Mogilev Oblast are doing the worst.

“Winter is around the corner. In October we are highly unlikely to have this year's September great weather conditions. The current pace of fodder procurement will lead to a complete lack of fodder on some farms,” the President said. “A full and balanced diet plays the central part in profitable production. Scientists together with the Agriculture and Food Ministry have developed more than 50 regulations for all kinds of livestock products. But for some reason we have neither regulations, nor fodder, or balanced diet used in practice. As a result, we are missing out on benefits in the meat and dairy sector.”

The head of state wants every Belarusian region to adhere to the developed crop system and observe fodder harvesting terms and technologies. “Only systematic work and joint efforts can ensure their high nutritional value,” he said. “Let everyone - from an agronomist to a responsible official – make their best to secure a year and a half supply of fodder for each farm. All farms need to be provided with a full balanced diet with sufficient nutritional supplements. We have everything for that. We have built the most advanced national biotechnology corporation (BNBC) to produce the best amino acids and fodder. Only four states can boast such a complex. Then use its products. You just have to balance the diet. Concentrates cannot be handed out by eye. Otherwise, we will face losses in livestock, reduced productivity, and overuse of expensive premixes.

The President's strict demand is to sort things out in the industry. “If you lack workers, involve students of agricultural universities, specialized classes. This is a good practice, and at the same time a good example of what to improve in our country,” he added.

The President stressed that by the end of the year it is necessary to equip farms and ensure an increase in the milking herd.

According to the State Control Committee, nearly 16,000 cattle stalls are underequipped. The President instructed the agriculture and food minister, the government, and the oblast governors to equip farms and ensure an increase in the milking herd by the end of the year. He said he would hold them personally responsible for it. Aleksandr Lukashenko pointed out that cattle with high productivity should be kept in these stalls. The farms should not be equipped only for the sake of appearances.

Aleksandr Lukashenko warned: “If you don’t do it, if you don’t equip these complexes, I promise to you that I will ‘unequip’ all of you. I have enough resolve for it. I am not going to play nice with you. I have never done that regardless of whatever election [campaigns] we may face. Because we may bury the country otherwise. We may fall so far that instead of exporting $8 billion [worth of food] we may have nothing to feed the nation with.”

“I repeat once again: we’ve built a lot of dairy complexes. 16,000 head of cattle have yet to be furnished! You don’t have much time to fit out these complexes and place cattle there,” the President added.

The head of state wants a businesslike approach to the matter. For instance, an agricultural enterprise in one oblast has too much cattle and it cannot handle the workload. The excessive cattle can be transferred to a good agricultural enterprise with spare capacity in another oblast. It is an unpopular decision but it will help preserve at least cattle productivity and may even preserve cattle life. “Transfer the cattle and feed it there. Surely there will be plenty of feed over there,” he said.

“I am warning you for the last time. Make decisions and act. Where are heads of district administrations? We will review their performance in no-nonsense terms. We cannot see the heads of district administrations behind the heads of oblast administrations at all,” the President noted.

Aleksandr Lukashenko instructed to set up a breeding and genetic center in the country’s poultry industry.

The key task in poultry farming is to reduce the industry's dependence on imports, Aleksandr Lukashenko emphasized. So far there has been no alternative to imported chickens for the production of hatching eggs.

“You have been telling me about these chickens and eggs for some 5-10 years. Can't we finally start producing them ourselves? We need to ensure our own breeding products. There is a need for a breeding and genetic center, similar to the one the cattle breeders have. You have six months to develop a business plan, and this project must be implemented next year,” the President gave instructions. “Let us raise these funds and build this center. After all, our poultry farms are not poor.”

Aleksandr Lukashenko said: “It is in the animal husbandry industry, to be exact, in processing that reserves of the Belarusian countryside are concentrated today.”

The workload of facilities that make meat and sausages was only about 70% in 2022. The workload of facilities that make whole-milk products was as low as 60%. “How many tonnes of milk, meat, and billions of rubles did we fail to get in the end?” the President wondered. “We are lucky that we have the processing industry. It means we can make as many products as we want thanks to land and we are ready to process them.”

Brest Oblast Governor Yuri Shuleiko noted that Brest Oblast enterprises are ready to process more products than they do now. Some of them are operating way below their capacity. For instance, they can process about 20% more milk and much more meat.

According to the head of state, personnel shortage is a systemic problem of the animal husbandry industry: “Personnel shortage. It is perhaps a systemic problem of this industry. It is necessary to involve everyone in the resolution of the personnel problem. If we have normal workforce, if we have specialists, then there will be production. We have to clench our teeth and do it. Nobody will do it instead of us. The personnel shortage problem needs to be resolved. It is not good that we train contract students but at most half of the graduates keep doing the assigned jobs.”

The head of state instructed the State Control Committee to look into the matter and find out to where the workforce is disappearing. “Find out. Find out in fundamental ways where these people are,” the President urged.

Apart from administrative measures every agricultural enterprise needs a system to keep their personnel, Aleksandr Lukashenko pointed out. It is also necessary to work with school students and university students. Moreover, there are plenty of people willing to work in agriculture. “Think about ways to attract and keep young people starting with housing and ending with exemplary working conditions. If we don’t resolve the problem of qualified personnel shortage, the economy of the countryside will keep underperforming,” he said.

Aleksandr Lukashenko said: “From now on iron, unconditional discipline will become the motto of agribusiness. Labor discipline. Financial discipline. Technological discipline. You have to do what you have to do.”

The head of the state instructed the government together with the Agriculture and Food Ministry, heads of the oblast administrations, the National Academy of Sciences of Belarus under firm control of law enforcement and oversight agencies to ensure the realization of the key directions.

First. Strict observance of zootechnic and veterinary norms of keeping and feeding of cattle and poultry.

Second. Prevention of the loss of cattle. “Men, don’t take offense. It is the last time we talk about it. You will not be able to justify your failures. I am not going to even listen to you. Starting 1 January things will be extremely difficult for those, who failed to hear me or heard me and failed to make conclusions,” the President warned.

Third. The need to stock up on feed to fully meet the demand of the public animal husbandry industry while observing technological requirements and industry-specific regulations. “Quality is the key,” Aleksandr Lukashenko stressed.

Fourth. Increasing the economic effectiveness of the animal husbandry industry on the basis of stock breeding.

Fifth. It is necessary to increase the workload of meat-packing plants while ruling out criminal schemes during cattle sales. “Things should line up with the picture you, oblast governors and heads of district administrations have ‘painted’. There must be no state-run enterprises, cooperatives, or private companies for you. All of them are in your care. Everyone has to have equal conditions,” the head of state said.

Sixth. Order in bookkeeping of agricultural enterprises, including initial records of cattle transfers and statistic reports.

Seventh. It is necessary to staff agricultural enterprises with veterinary specialists and workers. “You have to spend all you have but five to six executives (head agronomist, head animal technician, head veterinary doctor, head engineer and so on) should be provided with everything they need,” Aleksandr Lukashenko said.

Eighth. Unwavering observance of internal labor regulations, labor discipline, standing requirements for manufacturing processes and the quality of products by workers of agricultural enterprises. “Take good care of machines, vehicles, and equipment. They cost crazy money. Nobody will give you so much money in the future. The state has to take care of its own problems: social sphere, roads, land amelioration, efforts to increase soil fertility, and the rest. Those are the responsibility of the state. We cannot subsidize your business. But for now we dole out what little we have and try to satisfy every need,” Aleksandr Lukashenko noted.

The President went on saying: “I’ve identified the problems. But they are visible as it is. You know them better than I do. You are closer to it. Act! If someone impedes you, it is very easy to contact me. Tasks have been formulated. I look forward to concrete proposals about the strategy of development of the animal husbandry industry from the relevant deputy prime minister, from the [agriculture and food] minister. We have a new minister. It is necessary to start working very actively and lively no matter what. Positive practices of heads of successful agricultural enterprises are available. You are welcome to adopt them across the entire region or the republic.”

According to the President, cleanliness, order, and good agricultural products are Belarusian brands.

Aleksandr Lukashenko said: “Everyone looks at us and admires us. So let’s support this brand. I mean the demand for our products. Particularly products of agriculture. Even Russia admires our products although it is a cutting-edge country. We shouldn’t lose it. It is our brand: cleanliness, order, and good products. Men, let’s make it happen.”

Participants of the plenary session of the seminar-conference discussed performance and strategies of development of animal husbandry industry branches as well as scientific support for them. Close attention was paid to animal husbandry in regions of the country, its prospects. Examples of individual enterprises were presented.

The head of state believes that there is no need for extremely advanced technologies in agriculture. Addressing the obvious problems is what matters.

Aleksandr Lukashenko said: “Do you see how they bomb Russia these days? Do you see the drones flying back and forth? It is a new problem. A most difficult one. So, these [private military company] Wagner personnel are staying in Belarus now and tell everyone how this war goes on. I think: how can I counteract it? There are various options. They cost hundreds of millions of rubles. So I think: should I go ahead with land amelioration, till and commission new lands or should I fight these drones? A terrible weapon. So Putin and I discussed it. It costs crazy money! Yet life is more precious.”

The President pointed out that certainly, the government will support agriculture in Belarus but money will not be buried in soil just like that. “And we are not going to deal with those of you who don’t want to work either. Not because I am an evil person. But because there is no other way: we have to preserve the country,” he said.

“I am also surprised how today we manage to sit and talk about pig breeding amid all the turmoil around the country. Speculate how we should cook shashlik and what not. People have already forgotten about it. Even in rich countries. They talk about Poland. So what about it? Yuri Vitoldovich [Shuleiko, Brest Oblast Governor] and Vladimir Stepanovich [Karanik, Grodno Oblast Governor] are close to Poland. They know things. So what about Poland? Americans are spending crazy amounts of money over there,” Aleksandr Lukashenko remarked.

So now Poland has started quarrelling with Ukraine. Poland initially supported Vladimir Zelensky by all means. But now Poland sharply criticizes Ukraine. Aleksandr Lukashenko explained who is really behind it: “Do you think Poland puts pressure on poor Ukraine for no reason? No. An overseas order has been given: it is time to get rid of Zelensky, we are sick and tired of him. Elections will take place in American soon. Nobody will care about it. And we have to defend ourselves. Because we don’t know what to expect from these mad Polish politicians.”

“This is why I want you to understand that we don’t have any excessive money to spare. And there will be accountability for every kopeck. I am not saying we will not implement something. We are cost-conscious people. But men, it is not enough today. I don’t urge you to introduce space technologies in agriculture. Fix the bottlenecks that exist today. Resolve the problems that lie on the surface. And it will be enough for our generation. If you make a promise, act upon it. Continue acting,” the President said.

Summing up results of the nationwide seminar-conference, Aleksandr Lukashenko formulated key guidelines for the industry.

As a rule, top officials of the Prosecutor General’s Office and the State Control Committee also present their reports during such conferences. They report shortcomings and facts of mismanagement and at times criminal activities.

“They could spice things up for you here but we understand ourselves that agribusiness suffers from the loss of cattle, underperformance, mismanagement, poor discipline, and personnel shortages. It has already been noted. But I simply warn you: I have instructed the internal affairs minister, the prosecutor general, and chairman of the State Control Committee to put things in order in the country and primarily in agriculture,” Aleksandr Lukashenko noted.

Summing up results of the conference, the head of state stressed that it is abnormal that authorities on the ground make decisions but these decisions are not fulfilled. “This is why I simply warn you as a friend: law enforcement and oversight agencies will bring crazy pressure to bear during the winter housing season. Don’t take offense,” the President said.

At the same time the head of state addressed law enforcement and oversight agencies with a request: before reporting new facts of mismanagement to the President, they have to discuss the uncovered issues with the oblast governors.

Aleksandr Lukashenko also reminded about his previous instruction for the animal husbandry industry: it is necessary to transfer cattle into modern dairy complexes within five years.

“The dairy complexes where we make milk as a raw material for making products (we are famous for it) should be in an ideal state. We have good complexes. You should visit them and learn how things should be done. We will support it. But it doesn’t mean that we are going to waste money. No, we will approach the matter carefully,” the President pointed out.

The head of state intends to get familiar with cattle fattening procedures in detail. As an example he mentioned the state agricultural enterprise Kolkhoz Rodina in Belynichi District. The enterprise has worked out an effective system.

The construction of pig breeding complexes will also continue in the country. “Certainly, we will support you but everyone should pitch in: banks, company money, and budget money. We have to resolve the problem fast,” the Belarusian leader noted.

Aleksandr Lukashenko drew attention to support for qualified workers of agricultural enterprises. The President wants them to have decent salaries and housing.

“As for personnel. Work out any measures you deem necessary by the end of the year. Determine the fund of salaries for executives and specialists. You have to pay specialists well. We hold primarily specialists accountable for results. They represent a small number of people on the scale of a district or an oblast. Personnel underpins everything,” the head of state said.

Aleksandr Lukashenko also reminded about the work with contract students. He stressed that employer-sponsored education contracts should be signed with promising kids. The requirement applies not only to agriculture. “There should be no kidding about it,” he remarked.

Aleksandr Lukashenko stressed: “Our key problem lies in basic things: in discipline. Discipline is more than thumping the table with your fist. You can thump the table when you have a system in place. But if you have no sensible system for doing business and managing things, then what good would thumping do? Nobody will understand it. Heads of city, district, and oblast administrations have to work together to work out a clear-cut system and act without waiting for instructions from someone else. If you make errors… Just don’t make fatal errors. One can always excuse a person for an error if the person tries to do good. But if someone sits idle and doesn’t know what to do or knows what to do but doesn’t do it, then why would we need such an executive? This is why act. You are generals on the ground.”

The President remarked that the next few years will not be simple for the power vertical. Particularly for the “troika” in the regions: the President’s plenipotentiary for an oblast, the oblast governor, and the President’s aide. “You will have to organize election campaigns over there. We have to show everyone that we have a country and we will run this country,” the head of state said.

“Thank you for the meeting. I see that most of you understand me. Act! I urge you to act. Don’t stop. If there is a problem, feel free to contact me. You know how,” the head of state concluded.