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Steve Fritel visits the Black Sea

By Staff | Mar 25, 2011

Last September, Steve Fritel, farmer, Rugby, joined other CHS members on a trip to the Black Sea. CHS is a cooperative involving grains, foods, and energy. The group’s main purpose was to tour various locations on the Black Sea.

The trip took the group to Odessa, Ukraine, Novorassiysk, Russia and Constanza, Romania. While there they observed port facilities and took note of agricultural practices.

Fritel, whose ancestry is from the areas of Baden, Selz, and Kandel in the Ukraine, was particularly interested in that country. His grandparents were all from Odessa. After the tour with the cooperative, he left the group at Odessa and took a four-day guided tour of parts of the Ukraine on his own. He said that in Baden, Selz, and Kandel, there were many people with Rugby names suggesting ancestry of some local folks in the Ukraine. Although he did not meet any relatives of his own, he was able to find out some information on them.

While he was in the Ukraine, Fritel, who was very interested in the farming practices of his ancestors and today’s farmers as well, toured the countryside.

On his journey, he met a farmer, Demetrius, and started visiting with him. He learned that some of the farming practices are similar to the United States and others were dated back a few decades. With the aid of an interpreter, Fritel was able to converse with the farmer to some degree and they shared information about farming.

The biggest difference, Fritel noted, was in the equipment. The farm equipment was smaller and not as up-to-date. Resources that are in abundance here in this country are limited in the particular part of the Ukraine that Fritel was visiting. One farmer, Fritel met, seemed quite innovative and would figure out a way to make a piece of equipment he needed.

“The way they go about doing things is different, ” said Fritel. “It seems cultural that they continue to do things the way they have always been done.”

One instance of this was when Fritel observed that the farmer dumped grain on the ground and then shoveled it into an auger. In North Dakota, a hopper would have been used. When Fritel mentioned that to the Ukrainian, he seemed to think that using one was not a bad idea.

“Around here we have gotten away from tillage,” said Fritel. “We use more chemicals to kill the weeds. This method saves fuel and time.”

In the Ukraine they continue to use tillage, presumably, because they don’t have access to all the chemicals here.

Fritel was so intrigued with their equipment and way of doing things that he offered to help on a farm for a few hours. The farmer later called Fritel’s tour guide and asked him if Fritel was serious about his offer. Fritel relayed through the interpreter that he was indeed serious about the offer. He helped with some harvesting by driving the combine and also shoveled grain into the auger.

“One question the Ukrainian farmers had was what size headers do we use?,” said Fritel. The one that the farmer was using could harvest six rows of sunflowers in a sweep. When Fritel told them he has one that will do 12 rows, the farmer’s son was surprised as if he couldn’t imagine such a thing.

With the equipment that is used in North Dakota, Fritel figures he could combine this Ukrainian’s whole farm in one day. He said that in the farming area where he was visiting there is great potential, if they had the means to modernize their equipment.

Another unusual method used by the Ukrainian farmers was to take the cattle out to graze in the morning, stay with them and bring them in at night. Fritel noted that there were no fenced-in pastures in that area.

The farms Fritel saw in Russia were bigger and they operated with equipment similar to what is used in North Dakota. The crops he saw grown in Russia are wheat, barley, canola, sunflowers, corn, and sugar beets.

In the Ukraine, the three primary crops that Fritel saw were winter wheat, barley, and sunflowers. They also grew onions, other vegetables, and grapes to make vodka. There is rich soil that some compare to the Red River Valley, although the land is not flat, according to Fritel.

Before the break down of the Soviet Union, government-run collective farming was the norm. A collective farm consisted of 3000 hectares (7000 acres). The large farm that Fritel visited in Russia had 86,000 hectares (21,200 acres) and it had 200 landlords from whom land was rented. Crops, livestock, and most anything the farm families would need would be grown on collective farms. The families would be provided for and any extra would be sold. This changed and now individual farm families have somewhere between 7-20 hectares of land.

“The land is very similar to North Dakota with the rolling terrain and tree shelterbelts in both Russia and Ukraine, “said Fritel. “It felt like I was in North Dakota.

Fritel hopes to go back to that area again some day.

“It was an amazing trip,” he said.

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