Schelkovo Agrohim: Confidence in Russian Plant Protectors Grows in Southern and North Caucasian Federal Districts

Russia’s import of seeds for a number of crops may be restricted in early 2024. Salis Karakotov, CEO of Schelkovo Agrohim, described impact of these restrictions on domestic seed market in South and Caucasus

In 2024, imports of seeds for potatoes, wheat, rye, barley, corn, soybeans, rape, sunflowers, and sugar beets could be restricted. The reason is the initiative to introduce quotas on imports of seeds for some crops. How do you think this will affect the market?

Initially, this initiative came from breeding companies and research institutions, and Russian Ministry of Agriculture reacted to the proposal. I believe that implementation of quotas will encourage and stimulate domestic seed selection and breeding. It naturally raises the question: what kind of quotas to be implemented? But there is no clarity here yet.

My personal interest is to ensure that the crops we are dealing with, in particular, sugar beet, sunflower, winter wheat, spring wheat, soybeans, peas, have further development to accelerate substitution of foreign seeds. This year, large companies started sowing our seeds of sugar beet. Also, Schelkovo Agrohim started to export seeds of sugar beet to Belarus, Turkmenistan, Egypt, i.e. to import-dependent countries, which are now gradually becoming dependent on our seeds. In general, the market may experience shortage in sunflower, corn, rape and soybeans. However, if the quotas are implemented wisely, the directive should be implemented by 2030.

Schelkovo Agrohim, YugAgro
Salis Karakotov, CEO of Schelkovo Agrohim

How do the existing sanctions affect Russian market of plant protectors, fertilizers and seeds now? How are they affecting your financials? In general, what financial performance do you expect to achieve in 2023, do you anticipate any growth?

The sanctions imposed on our country in all directions did not affect domestic production of plant protectors. We have lost two foreign suppliers: two American companies left Russian market. Together, they held approximately 8% of the market. In 2022, this share was rapidly distributed among Russian producers and suppliers of plant protectors.

Scale of Schelkovo Agrohim outputs grew substantially last year. Average market growth is 5-7% in terms of consumption volumes, our growth in 2022 was about 12%, and even more in financial terms. We closed the period with absolute growth in both volume and financial performance compared to all previous years. At the moment, we are experiencing the peak of plant protectors consumption. We are running 5.2% ahead of last year volume (as of the beginning of July — RBC TV South editor note). Regarding financials, the market dropped as we met the needs of agricultural producers. The average drop in cash metrics was 18%. As a result, financial indicators will be yielding and volumes will be exceeding previous outcomes.

Those who adopted high technologies do not return to plough and hoe, they use plant protectors instead of hoe, and modern machinery instead of plough. This is interrelated, so in terms of volume, Russia will keep high consumption of plant protectors.

To what extent South and North Caucasus, in particular Krasnodar Territory, are provided with domestic plant protectors and fertilizers at the moment?

If we talk about Krasnodar Territory, Stavropol Region and Rostov Region, their growth in terms of volume is about 30-40% compared to previous record-breaking year. These are wealthy regions that are accustomed to their high performance. They can't afford to lower their rates. Consumption of plant protectors is growing not only in these three regions, but also in the republics of North Caucasian Federal District.

I should also underline that these regions experience growth in garden areas, where the cost to protect one hectare is 10 times higher than the cost to protect one hectare of field crop plantations. Consequently, use of plant protectors is rising in this segment. Over the last 2-3 years I note a trend that if earlier Southern Federal District and North Caucasian Federal District were sceptic about domestic plant protectors, now there is high confidence in Russian products. In terms of efficiency, we have not only levelled off, but have gone ahead by all indicators, thus consumption of our products and the products of our colleagues, Russian manufacturers, is growing there. And I believe it will continue growing.

As the analysts note, in 2022 the cost of mineral fertilizers on domestic market rose by 10-15% on average, depending on the type. What is the behaviour of prices on domestic market in 2023, what are the drivers behind the dynamics?

2022 showed increased prices not only for fertilizers, but also for plant protectors. As for our plant protectors, here prices have dropped by 18% based on 2023 index. At the same time, surprisingly, for the first time in 20 years there was a decrease in mineral fertilizers price for agricultural producers — and quite a serious one. For example, ammophos earlier cost 60-62 rubles per kilogram, now it costs 40 rubles. This reduction will not be perceived by winter wheat and other crops of the current year, they are formed by the last year and spring of this year, and the reduction has occurred quite recently. So the impact will be seen in 2024 yields for all other crops.

It is quite common for resource providers to react to falling market by lowering the price of their products. We, of course, reacted among the first, as producers of plant protectors. That is why agricultural producers will experience price reductions regarding 2023 harvest. And reduction of mineral fertilizer prices — in the next year.

We can expect higher prices in the fall due to increased demand caused by use of mineral fertilizers such as phosphorus and potash. Plant protectors will continue to drop in price, and this drop could exceed 18% by the end of the year.

Schelkovo Agrohim
Schelkovo Agrohim at YugAgro

By 2022, Russian exports of mineral fertilizers in terms of volume decreased by over 10%. Supplies of fertilizers from Russia to the USA decreased by more than a third and to the EU by almost 20%. Did you have to redirect to other countries in such circumstances, and if so, to what markets?

We export 30% of our products to friendly countries, countries of the former Soviet Union. In addition, this year our exports to Mongolia, Serbia, and Turkey increased with particular growth in exports to Belarus. Schelkovo Agrohim has also started exporting seeds of winter wheat, a fairly large amount was sent to Turkmenistan, and it started supplying seeds of sugar beet to Egypt.

Since we index the amounts in foreign currency, our cash flow is increasing in rubles due to exchange rate growth. Our export have not suffered, so we will continue developing it.

What are your plans for infrastructure improvements in the nearest future? What production investments in South and North Caucasus does the company plan to implement by the end of this year and in 2024?

We are expanding our own infrastructure for production of plant protectors. This year we plan to finish construction of the largest shop at Schelkovo Agrohim site to produce fungicides and insecticides, i.e. we are expanding production of this product group.

In this and the next years, we expect the South to understand the causes of plant disease in wet years: it occurs due to inadequate treatment. We intend to expand our production of fungicides in response to this. And, in response to global warming leading to increased insect populations, we plan to boost production of various insecticides. Currently, the product groups showing the highest growth are fungicides, weedkillers and insecticides for pest control. We invested RUB 1.2 billion in construction of this shop. At this moment installation of equipment is in progress; there is complete building, as well as internal and external infrastructure, at the site. The works are nearing completion, so in September, in Samarkand we will put into operation the largest plant in Central Asia for production of all groups of plant protectors included in our range. This will, certainly, reduce exports as the products will be produced at the new plant.

We plan to build sunflower breeding centre in the South of Russia. We purchased land plots, and we have farms suitable for this purpose. We manage about 5,500 ha in the South of Russia. And we intend to invest in establishing a sunflower breeding centre. Site plan is currently under design. For instance, 65 ha are allocated for basic infrastructure of the entire seed breeding process. It will be located in Adygea adjacent to Krasnodar Territory. This year we will complete design stage, and will proceed with intensified works in 2024. Creation of the seed breeding centre will require about RUB 700 million.

Regarding seed propagation site, this too will take place in the southern regions. This year we sowed 3,600 ha of sunflower hybridization plots in Stavropol, Rostov Region and Krasnodar Territory. This area will increase to 15,000 ha by 2030. We will invest in production of sunflower, soybean and winter wheat seeds within this acreage. It is planned to transfer about RUB 900 million for these purposes.

This November, Krasnodar will host YugAgro 2023 – Anniversary International Exhibition of Agricultural Machinery, Equipment and Materials for Crop Production, and you are planning to exhibit there not for the first time. How important for Schelkovo Agrohim is exhibiting at YugAgro? From past years experience, how effective is it?

YugAgro is the grand expo that, I think, gathers half of the country. Even our colleagues from the Far East arrive. In some way, it is the most comprehensive exhibition forum in Russia presenting worldwide achievements. We exhibit not only plant protectors, but also our seeds — now in greater and greater quantities. We also display there the machinery assembled at our sites. At the same time, the main function of this exhibition is to welcome our friends and partners, consumers, clients, and to conduct round tables there. This is the most essential part.

The 30th YugAgro International exhibition of agricultural machinery, equipment and materials for crop production will be held in Expograd Yug exhibition centre in Krasnodar on 21–24 November. Free electronic registration for visitors is already open on the official YugAgro website.

Rostselmash is the general partner of the Exhibition
ROSAGROTRADE is the general sponsor of the Exhibition