Southern Europe fears cattle slaughter as conflict in Ukraine causes animal feed shortages
Carlo Vittorio Ferrari, who runs a 2,000 pig farm with his brother near the northern Italian city of Cremona, fears his fourth-generation family business could be lost due to conflict in Ukraine.
he country is a major global supplier of animal feed, with rapidly dwindling stocks across import-dependent southern Europe.
With Hungary, Serbia and Moldova also banning exports as they protect their own supplies, the costs of farms like Ferrari’s have soared, threatening their future. Many face the slaughter of the animals if the situation does not improve quickly.
“It’s a family business. My grandfather went through two wars, my father saw one, but I don’t know if we’ll get through it,” Ferrari said.
Italy has called for EU rules limiting state aid to the sector to be lifted, while Spain has moved to allow emergency purchases of maize from Argentina and Brazil.
“I hear more and more reports of farmers slaughtering their animals, but I want to avoid that,” said Elisabetta Quaini, who raises 1,300 cows for beef and milk production on her farm in Lombardy, in northern Italy. “I am determined to continue, but I am very worried.”
“It’s not just corn, it’s also soybeans and many by-products that are hard to come by. There’s a tremendous struggle to grab what’s available.”
Michele Liverini, vice president of cattle feed producer Mangimi Liverini SpA, said if dairy cows were culled, it would take seven to eight years to build a barn to produce milk again.
Ukraine is among the world’s top four corn exporters, and the closure of its ports due to the conflict has had a major impact on shipments.
“The problem is that now we have a perfect storm. When Ukrainian exports stopped, countries like Moldova, Serbia and Hungary tried to stop exporting as a protectionist measure and we ended up with a big problem in our ports,” Liverini said.
“In the Italian ports, where ships arrive every week from these countries, there are only 25 days of supply left.”
Spain has the largest livestock in the European Union at around 58.8 million head, according to EU data for 2021 covering pigs, cows, sheep and goats. Italy ranks fourth with about 22.5 million heads.
Both countries produce a wide range of internationally renowned agricultural products, including Mozzarella di Bufala and Prosciutto di Parma in Italy and Jamon Iberico in Spain.
Pietro Fusco, managing director of Cirio Agricola, a milk producer with two farms based near Benevento, southern Italy, said the sector was already stressed after battling the COVID-19 pandemic for two years. .
He said they were considering giving the herd less food initially, but may eventually have to cull some of the animals to keep the farm going and protect jobs and families.
“There is also a transport problem and therefore the impossibility of having supplies in time,” he said.
Corn futures, or maize, on Paris-based Euronext hit a record 420 euros a tonne earlier this month, up around 50% since Russia invaded Ukraine. .
Animal feed stocks also ran out in Spain, a major customer of Ukraine.
Agustin de Prada, director of Spain’s Asoprovac breeders’ association in Castile and Leon, said the rise in costs had been steep and raised questions about the viability of farms.
“When I sell the animals, will I put in new ones? Well, maybe not, because I can’t, the math doesn’t work.”
Producers say that to survive, consumers have to pay higher prices for products like meat, milk and eggs, further fueling food inflation, which has become a major problem around the world since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Emilio Rial, director of the Coren Group, a huge farmers’ cooperative in Spain, said the cost of basic food production had jumped by 40%.
“We will try not to pass everything on to the consumer by negotiating with the big supermarkets, but prices will inevitably rise,” he said. (Additional reporting by Emma Pinedo and Belen Carreno in Madrid; Writing by Nigel Hunt; Editing by Veronica Brown and Jan Harvey)