To Russia – For the Prospects
“When I started to get ready to go to Russia, my friends and acquaintances decided that I had lost my mind,” smiles Lorin. “They didn't understand how I could give up 400 cows and 300 hectares (740 acres) of land and set off into the great unknown.
” Lorin admits that, at first, he, himself, did not know how his undertaking would turn out. “I found an ad on the Internet that an Englishman, a certain John Kopiski, was announcing a vacant position of manager of a large livestock complex in Russia. And I thought to myself: why not risk it? In America I had very little chance of achieving anything great and Russia clearly presented me with new possibilities!”
And so he did risk it. And it was just that kind of person John Kopiski was seeking. Therefore he chose Grams from the five foreign farmers invited for the interview. And it was John Kopiski, an Englishman who had taken Russian citizenship and been successfully engaged in agriculture in Russia since 1999, that Lorin, himself, needed. And John Kopiski's financial capability had been achieved, not through football or resort business, but through milk production. They found each other in Russia, in the Vladimir Region, where Kopiski had created a unique livestock complex. Now Russian civil servants are brought here to see how to get large quantities of high quality milk from cows.
The Main Thing in Life is Work
...On Saturday, when in Russia people are usually relaxing or doing the household duties, we found Lorin at the livestock complex. Here, five minutes ago, one more calf was brought into the world.
Russian civil servants are brought here to see how to get large quantities of high quality milk from cows.
“Each day 10 to 15 calves are born here, one day we set a record: 40 newborn calves!” relates Yulia, employee of the “delivery ward”, with no little pride. “I really like it here. We have modern technology, and it is nothing like the nearby collective farms...”
One should also say that the wages at the “Rozhdestvo” complex are, on average, 17,000 rubles (570 USD) a month, which is not bad at all for the Vladimir Region.
“But we don't hire just anybody,” interjects Lorin. “Those who drink, steal or idle around have no place here. You know, out of those I hired in 2005, not one is left. But I have faith in each person who works with us now – and that is about 100 people.”
It is not only Russians who work for him, but also Tadzhiks, Uzbeks, Moldovans, Ukrainians (representatives of the native nationalities of neighbouring former Soviet republics, now the independent states of Tadzhikistan, Uzbekistan, Moldova and Ukraine). Nationality makes no difference to Lorin: the main thing is the person's attitude towards his/her duties.
Lorin tells how not long ago they had a “Collective farm Day”. This is what he calls the agricultural workers' holiday which is observed in Russia in late fall every year. And at “Rozhdestvo” there was a party with dancing and a moderate amount of alcohol. In Mr. Grams' words, such a corporate event once a year is even useful. For team-building.
“I myself am not averse to a pint of beer when I'm off duty,” smiles Lorin. “And the beer in Russia is no worse than in America.”
Lorin considers in general that each year his life differs less from his former American life.
“I do the same work,” he explains. “Except here everything is on a much larger scale and more interesting! I like to overcome unexpected problems which arise.”
Eugenia Parmuhina, Director of Research, Techart:“In Russia around 230 kg (507 lb.) of dairy products are consumed per person per year (the average in developed countries is 235 kg (518 lb.)). In 2010 31.8 million tonnes of milk was produced in the country, 2.2% lower than in 2009. In 2011 the trend towards the reduction in production continued. This is linked to the increased price of animal feed and other consequences of the severe drought in 2010. Despite the reduction in production, consumption of dairy products is growing (thus, in 2010 consumption grew by 14% compared to 2009) and that means growing import. Setting up a dairy farm in Russia is a quite costly and risky enterprise taking a long time to receive a return on investment (8-15 years). The amount of investment calculated for one cow is 120-400,000 rubles (4-13,000 USD), depending on how well the complex is equipped and on the presence of additional technological areas (for example, a mini-factory for producing mixed feed). Investment in equipment for farms with 100 head of cattle costs from 2 to 5 million rubles (67-167,000 USD). For a dairy and livestock complex with 1,200 head, considerably more expensive equipment is required, investment being 60-100 million rubles (2-3.3 million USD).
Through Solving Problems to Setting Records
One such problem, for example, was that, for some reason, cows imported from abroad often fell ill. The reason, it turned out, was the warm cattle sheds which it is the practice to build in Russia.
“John and I managed to prove to the local officials that Danish cows, being outdoors, in cattle shed without walls or gates, will be healthy and will yield more milk,” relates Lorin Grams. “In fact, the greatest yield comes exactly in sub-zero temperatures. It’s because the animals eat more. Moreover, our cows easily withstand a drop in air temperature up to minus 40 °C (-40 °F)!”
And indeed, the 1,600 cows imported from Denmark feel very much at home in light, modern constructions made out of corrugated steel, and they produce healthy young. It is no coincidence that in the complex there are already 3,500 head of livestock and record milk yields.
Kopiski and Grams are sure that anyone unable to provide yields from one cow not less than of 6,000 litres (1320 Gal.) a year (about 20 litres (4.4 Gal.) a day) simply should not engage in dairy farming. For reference, the average figure for the amount of milk production in Russia today is 3,800 litres (836 Gal.) a year per cow. But at their farm, it is equal to 10,000 litres (2,200 Gal.) (calculated from 305 days of milking)! This is why the “Rozhdestvo” complex, to a certain extent, has become a university for local dairy farmers.
After this, Grams tells that he has no problems at his day-to-day life: he watches American TV channels via satellite, and, if he suddenly feels the urge to eat a hamburger or a pizza, then he can either make it himself or drive over to the McDonalds which opened recently in the district center of Petushki, 30 km (19 miles) away.
Incidentally, Lorin does not care too much for traditional Russian borsches and soups. However, he really likes pork kebabs, Uzbek “plov” (pilaff), Tadzhik “lavash” (flat unleavened wheat bread) and...the Russian “banya” (steam-bath).
Crime Passed Them By
In seven years, Lorin Grams has experienced no problems either with local officials, or with crime. When he speaks about this in America, many do not believe that the district administration do not demand bribes from him, because, having read horror stories about Russia, everyone is convinced there is mass corruption amongst local officials. On this subject, Lorin considers the ability to communicate with officials to be one of the most vital prerequisites for working successfully in Russia.
“As far as this is concerned, it is better not to rely on an interpreter but to learn Russian yourself,” he offers as one more piece of advice. “It is not so difficult. When I arrived in Russia, I could only say “Yes” and “No”. In the end, tired of interpreters, I picked up the language in a year. And if I forget something, then I ask the children: for them Russian has become their second native language.”
His children, by the way, are friends with the local kids and go to an ordinary Russian school.
What Irritates Him in Russia
“First of all, it is all kinds of statistical reports. In the US there is no way near as much bureaucracy! If it is your own business, you can do whatever you think necessary,” relates Lorin. “In accordance with the law, naturally, which is the same for everybody. Here, though, we are monitored ecologically, in terms of health and safety, fire prevention... And each inspector can interpret the law differently. To deal with these people, we had to hire an expert at the level of managing director purely to concentrate on whatever was being inspected. We even had to recruit a staff of experts to manage those areas answerable to the officials...”
Vyacheslav Gusev, Deputy Governor of the Vladimir Region, Director of Agriculture and Food Department:
“John Maxwell Kopiski was the first foreign citizen to create on the soil of the Vladimir Region, at first a farming enterprise, which then grew to become a livestock mega-complex. Automation of production, the application of modern technology and the intelligent management allow him to employ the minimum number of workers. “Rozhdestvo” LLC is a participant in the Russian Federation‘s prioritised national project called “The Development of the Agro-industrial complex”, therefore it was eligible for financial support from the government. As part of this national project, the construction of a second milking facility was carried out. Russia in general and the Vladimir Region in particular, are interested in attracting investments in all sectors of the economy, including agriculture. Substantial privileges and preferences to investors are offered in accordance with our Region’s legislation. Today, in the sphere of the agro-industrial complex, a range of large investment projects are under way using Russian capital. But should we receive proposals from foreign businessmen prepared to develop their business with us, we will discuss them and, you can be sure, we will find common grounds.”
In Lorin's words, in America, the farmer is the entire management staff of the farm and through a system of outsourcing, a vet or an accountant serves a dozen farms and more at the same time.
“As a result, for the same 3,500 head of cattle in the US 2-3 times fewer people are needed,” says Lorin. He also notes that building materials are more expensive in Russia. “You could build such a livestock complex in Michigan with twice less money!”
But Lorin likes the fact that in Russia war has been declared on the bureaucrats and corrupt officials. Which is why he has met John Kopiski's plans to build another dairy unit as well as to open a meat-processing plant and bull-calf fattening farm in the village of “Rozhdestvo” with enthusiasm. In general, Lorin is surprised at why Russia, with its gigantic territories, imports food.
“Russia itself could export!” the farmer is convinced. “Only our Rozhdestvo complex sells 50 tonnes of milk every day and is preparing, in the future, to slaughter 700 head of cattle per year.”
There can be little doubt that numerous Moscow Steak Houses will be lining up for this product as is happening today with milk: 2.5 tonnes are distributed for retail every day. And the rest is bought up wholesale by Wimm-Bill-Dann, one of the market leaders in dairy products in Russia.
But of Plans – a Bulk
The “Rozhdestvo” complex sells 50 tonnes of milk every day and is preparing, in the future, to slaughter 700 head of cattle per year.
Lorin Grams says that his dream is to increase the number of his cows to 10,000 head. To yield 150 tonnes of milk a day. This is entirely realistic. Yet more ambitious plans are also realistic. In contrast to America, where the rent of farmlands costs a huge amount of money, in Russia things are a lot simpler. There is much of it, even not far from Moscow, and still undeveloped.
“Given the rising deficit in produce in the world, this situation won't last for long,” says Lorin. “Sooner or later not only Muscovites will come to these empty areas buying land for their “dachas” (holiday homes inhabited, usually, only during the summer) but also large foreign investors who will set up serious production.