Farming entrepreneur builds world-class business

“Our business is to supply the best seed possible,” says Maksym Bernatskyy, director of Rost Agro. He discusses how knowledge and experience can build a world-class farming business

“Here are the parent lines of nine hybrids,” says Maksym Bernatskyy, as he picks up very different corncobs lying on his desk. Seed breeding is his passion and has helped build a modern and successful farming business.

Rost Agro was founded by Bernatskyy in 2000 in Hlobyno in the Poltava region in the East of Ukraine. It now farms 8,000 hectares located on four different sites, with two production facilities and employs 200 people, with a further 300 on a seasonal basis. 

Over the years Rost Agro has worked with trusted and reliable partners, including many of Ukraine’s breeding institutes. One of those partners is Adama. 

“Adama has established a highly-qualified and professional team in Ukraine and my confidence in them is at the heart of our really strong relationship and I appreciate their product range and superior quality. I also like their “design mixtures” which means we get the exclusive products we need and implement fresh ideas regularly.”

Other partners include the Dnipro National Cereals Research Institute, which Rost Agro has worked with to develop corn hybrids and the Odessa Plant Breeding and Genetics Institute on wheat programs.

Taking the rough with the smooth

Running such a large farming business is complicated, but Bernatskyy takes it in his stride: “Stressful situations are constantly present. One of biggest problems last year was the weather. But my view is if you can influence it, then fight, but if you cannot, calm down! During the middle of a problem I can deal with a situation, even at the most critical point, but once the problem has passed I can also be emotional.” 

As in other countries, Ukrainian farming’s relationship with the state is one of the complications for a business. Bernatskyy praises past government tax policies that favored the development of farming businesses and he wishes they would continue today – he currently has a lawsuit against the tax authority. He says that he was fortunate that he was able to build his business at a time of little interference from the state, and while he acknowledges that the relationship between businesses and the state is never going to be an easy one, he says it should at least be a predictable and reliable one.

Ukraine is proposing land reforms that will allow individuals to buy land, although there might be an upper limit on the amount of land any one person can buy. For Bernatskyy it is another complex business issue. He says he is not against land reform, but it must be carried out in a way that is sensitive to the needs of everyone. 

“I don`t need reforms which destroy everything I have established in the past 20 years. The thing we can most certainly do without are new uncertainties, while there should be no nationalizing of land or forcing of owners to sell their land.

Both Bernatskyy’s father and grandfather were farmers and his wife is now involved with the business. Their eldest daughter has been helping at field days and fairs since she was six. 

“Whether my daughters join the business is their decision,” he says. “I would be very pleased if they would continue the life's work of their father and grandfather, but at the same time I don`t want to exert pressure on them.”

Bernatskyy is a member of a generation of Ukrainian farming entrepreneurs that used a unique opportunity to building world class businesses, so what would be his advice for his daughters if they wanted to join him and for others starting in business: “Firstly, understand precisely what you do from working processes to product detail. Secondly, do not be afraid if difficulties occur, they are inevitable. Our market still under development, which presents new business opportunities. There is less competition and more niches in agriculture than other businesses. Thirdly, you have to be willing to learn continuously since the world is changing so quickly.”

The interview was conducted by Iryna Korchagina, editor-in-chief of Agroexpert.

Maksym Bernatskyy, director of Rost Agro
Maksym Bernatskyy shows farmers the different wheat varieties on his farm (June, 2017)
Winter wheat at Bernatskyy’s farm
Mykhailo Bernatskyy (Maksym’s father) at ADAMA’s winter seminar at Rost Agro (January, 2016)