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Black Earth or Chernozem Forms the Basis of Agricultural Wealth in Ukraine

Ukrainians identify so much with their reputation of being “the Breadbasket of Europe” that they coloured their national flag after it: the yellow base for endless grain fields topped with blue to represent the sky.

Much of the country’s productivity centres on its unique soil – known as Chernozem” or “black earth.” This dark earth constitutes some of the best agricultural soils in the world. It ranks high in, humus (4-16 percent), has a loose texture, and good aeration and a high water retention capacity. When properly maintained, it has a high fertility level and provides exceptional agricultural yields.

According to a 2014 World Bank report, chernozem covers nearly 46 per cent of the Ukraine, and consists of 68 percent of its 42 million hectares of arable land. It has one third of the world’s black earth reserves, after another one that runs across the Midwestern region of North America.

Chernozem in some parts of the Ukraine has a depth up to 15 meters, providing exceptional growing conditions for grain crops and oil seeds, notably sunflower – the nation’s national flower.

Supplementing this is the nation’s favourable climate and location to the Black Sea harbours, providing direct access to world markets. The FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization) states in a 2017 report that Ukraine fulfills a growing global demand for grains and reducing current levels of hunger and malnutrition, particularly in nations with limited agricultural growing conditions.

Today, Ukraine is among the world’s top three wheat-producing countries, with the grain sector providing employment for millions of Ukrainians in farming, milling, transport, banking and retail. Half of Ukrainian grain exports go to Asia and North Africa, including Egypt – the world’s leading grain importer. European Economic Union nations consume another 30 percent of grain.

Moreover, Ukraine leads the world in sunflower oil production and ranks among the top five in corn, soy and barley. It also produces substantial amounts of sugar beets, potatoes and rapeseeds.

Ukrainian farmers are challenged by various conditions, notably increasing droughts caused by climate change, as well as soil loss and drops in fertility caused by poor management practices such as excessive tillage. The country had called for “climate smart agriculture and soil erosion policies” to deal with this.

Chernozem exists in Canadian grassland regions, notably Interior Plains of Western Canada – home of many Ukrainian Canadians. The Soils of Canada website states that the prairie belt is an extension of the black earth belt within the mid-western US states.

The greatest amount of black earth exists as a semi-circular belt across the prairie grasslands that starts in the prehistoric Lake Agassiz region of Manitoba. It moves northwest through Saskatoon and Edmonton before descending south into Montana. 

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