ZHURIVKA (Ukraine) -- Oleksandr Chukuk's warehouse should have been empty in anticipation of the new harvest. He had shipped his winter wheat abroad. Instead, his central Ukrainian storage bins are overflowing with grain that he can't ship out due to the war with Russia.
Already, the green spikes are beginning to ripen. Soon the horizon will be like the Ukrainian flag: a sea of golden under a blue sky. Chubuk is optimistic about achieving 500 tons of harvest, but for the first-time in his 30 year career as a farmer, he's not sure what to do.
He said, "Hope is all I have right now."
According to President Volodymyr Zeleskyy, the war in Ukraine has trapped 22 million tonnes of grain. This is a serious problem for Ukraine, which is known for being the "breadbasket" of Europe for its exports, including wheat, corn, and sunflower oil.
According to the Ukrainian Grain Association, Ukraine was able to export 6 to 7 million tons per month before Russia invaded. However, it only shipped 2.2 million tons in June, which is a drop of 2% from its previous total. It normally sends around 30% of its grain to Europe and 30% to North Africa, while 40% goes to Asia, according to Mykola Horbachov (head of the association).
The fate of Ukraine's upcoming harvest is uncertain due to Russia's blockade at the Black Sea ports. According to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, the war is threatening food supplies in many developing countries and could lead to increased hunger for as many as 181 million people.
Many farmers in Ukraine are at risk of going bankrupt. Horbachov stated that they are in the most difficult position since 1991 when Ukraine gained independence.
Recep Tayyip Erdan, Turkish President, has stated that Turkey is working with Russia, Ukraine and the U.N. to find a solution. He also offered safe passages in the Black Sea to wheat shipments.
Ukraine is currently looking for less efficient ways to export its grain to Europe. Currently, 30% exports are made via three ports on the Danube River in southwestern Ukraine.
Horbachov stated that the country is also trying to ship grain through 12 border crossings to European countries. However, trucks have to wait for days and Europe's infrastructure can not yet absorb this volume of grain.
He told The Associated Press that it was impossible to construct such infrastructure in a year.
Transport costs rose due to Russia's invasion. From $40 to $45, the cost to ship this year's harvested wheat to Constanta in Romania is $160 to $180 per tonne. Yet, a farmer selling barley is still getting less than $100 per tonne.
Along with the harvest, the losses are increasing.
"Most farmers run the risk of going bankrupt soon," Horbachov said. Horbachov stated that they have no other choice but to sell their grain at a lower price than the cost.
These challenges are not the only ones that farmers face. Not all farmers are able to sell their grain.
A ton of wheat from Chubuk's Kyiv region farm could be sold for $270 before the invasion. He can't find any buyer, even at $135 per pound.
James Heneghan (senior vice president at Gro Intelligence), a global data analytics company that analyzes climate and agricultural data, stated that "the whole system backs down". The system was designed to keep Ukraine's exported goods flowing and not store them.
Future harvests will be difficult if there is no money to buy grain. Horbachov stated that farmers must purchase fertilizers, diesel, and pay their salaries. "Ukrainian farmers can't print money."
As the harvest starts, storage is still available in the country.
According to Horbachov Ukraine has 65 million to 67 millions tons of commercial grain storage capacity. However, 20% of this is located in Russian-occupied territory. Although 20 to 25 million tons of grain can be stored by farmers, some of it is in occupied territories.
Ukraine will have a shortage in storage capacity by September end, when sunflower and corn seeds harvest begins.
Recently, the FAO announced a $17million project to address the storage shortage. Gro Intelligence's Heneghan noted that silo bags could be a temporary solution for farmers who need storage.
Farmers continue to work in the fields even though they are under threat in the southern and eastern regions of the frontline.
"It could be finished in a minute by bombing or as we now see, the fields on fire," Yurii Vakulenko said in the Dnipropetrovsk area, with black smoke visible in distance.
Vakulenko stated that his workers are at risk of their lives because storage facilities refuse to accept their grain.
Last year, Ukraine had a record-breaking harvest of grain. It collected 107 million tonnes. More was expected for this year.
Horbachov predicted that 70 million tons of grain would be harvested this year in the best case scenario.
He stated that he didn't see any way for Ukrainian farmers to survive without opening (Black Sea) ports. "And if they don’t survive, we won’t be able feed African countries."
Francesca Ebel and Valerii Rezik in Ukraine, and Aya batrawy in Dubai (United Arab Emirates) contributed.
Follow AP's coverage of the Russia-Ukraine war at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine