Ivan Pidlisniy, a Khmelnytskiy Oblast native, now lives in Rivne Oblast, where he runs a private enterprise Riven-Agro registered in the town of Rafalivka (Varash Raion). He’s a small farmer leasing land plots from the local farming land owners. He cultivates about three hundred hectares of land, adding his harvest to Ukraine’s food reserves.
Ivan developed his own formula of symbiosis of farming and nature, and found his own canary in the coal mine by keeping a mobile bee pavilion near his fields. Ivan Pidlisniy is a beekeeper and the owner of Berendey, a unique (for Rivne Oblast) metropolis-beehive. So, how do bees get along with agrochemicals? Let’s find out!
The opportunity to ask farmer Ivan Pidlisniy about his practices presented itself during the course “Eco Practices for Farming and Communities” offered by a collaboration of NGO “Ecoaction” and Prometheus. After all, all of us are good at exploiting nature, while only some of us know how to work the land while staying on a more eco-friendly side.
Wheel-Mounted Honey Metropolis
A wagon-type beehive that is somehow unique for our region is stationed in the village of Kosmaky, a part of Rafalivka territorial community. Its owner, the local farmer Ivan Pidlisniy, leases farmlands from the local landowners in the villages of Liubakhy, Sukhovol and Lozky, overall about 300 hectares. He has six units of farming machinery and employs five local residents.
I was curious whether this could become a novel in Ukrainian beekeeping and farming
In a traditional apiary, beehives, despite being considered relocatable, are mostly sitting on the ground. It is only in the height of the honey season that they are relocated to better fields of honey-plants. At the same time, Berendey apiary is itself a wagon made of beehives. When mounted on wheels, it can be towed from one honey-field to another by a passenger car. One such apiary can incorporate 40 to 80 beehives at any given period, and is easy to maintain. Colorful on the outside, the apiary has each of the beehives marked with a different color. The bees, who are known for their ability to distinguish colors, have no trouble with finding their way home.
“In Ukraine, Berendey is still a unique beekeepers solution, being an autonomous apiary, a portable cassette pavilion, and a template of a bee farm. My apiary incorporates 40 beehives, while there are versions that incorporate as many as 80 beehives. Here the artisans devised practical technologies for obtaining apiculture products of the highest quality. Berendey pays back in about a year. That being said, this apiary mostly covers the needs of my family and brings in only a little income, so there’s a lot of room for improvement,” shares Ivan the owner, winking in the direction of the apiary, while getting into his protective gear.
Ivan is not afraid to let his bees collect honey from his treated crops. He places his apiary near the farm fields he leases, despite those fields being treated with pesticides, herbicides, growth stimulants, trace nutrients, fungicides, and insecticides — right across the dirt track. The bees, however are in no way harmed by those chemicals! On the contrary, it turns out that apiary near a farm field is an indicator of eco-friendliness of the modern agricultural methods applied by the farmer.
I asked Ivan how the bees survive on a well-kept field treated by chemicals, which is blossoming with honey plants about 10 meters from his apiary.
“Well, as you rightly noticed, the field is well-kept. I only use certified seeds from reputable companies. In addition, I only purchase and use approved and certified treatments. It’s true that they cost by order of magnitude more, but they are totally worth their price — not a single complaint from ecologists! We get frequently checked by the local subdivision of the State Consumer Product Safety Service, and they’ve found no problems so far. The regulations require that we keep the local authorities and beekeepers informed regarding our treatment schedule, and perform the treatment in the evening hours or at night, with no birds flying around, no cattle grazing nearby, and no people chilling in their gardens — so that’s what we do. Morning dew is instrumental to faster absorption of the treatment agent, thus making it more effective. At the same time, the fumes produced during daytime spraying do not poison the surrounding fauna, flora and people either. This is how our crops are beautiful without any damage to the nature, and thus my conscience is clear,” tells Ivan Pidlisniy, farmer-and-beekeeper, while leisurely removing another frame of fresh honey from a beehive.
Only high-quality agrochemicals, so as not to harm the environment and insects
It has been proven, the farmer says, that bees increase crops by thirty percent.
In the forest near Liubakhy, where Ivan leases some of land allotments, there are log beehives where the bees live and produce honey, despite chemically-treated fields nearby. This proves the point that with the right tillage formulas the chemicals are not that harmful for insects, people, and the overall environment.
Local residents and land owners were initially distrustful of Ivan’s efforts. Lately, the local farmers have been increasingly neglecting the crop cultivation regulations, along with sanitary regulations and national standards regarding the use of toxic chemicals and pesticides. Their practices mostly led to depletion of soils, poisoning of livestock and decimation in bees — in some places, even people were exhibiting symptoms of poisoning and had to go to a hospital. At the same time, Ivan’s farming in Varash Raion earned him and his enterprise but good reputation.
Became a farmer of the desire to change his community
Ivan Pidlisniy’s Riven-Agro is one of the few small farms in Rivne Oblast holding an official license for growing varietal grains.
Ivan sows certified grain breeds, like “Yelena” and “Syn” buckwheat (exclusively bee-pollinated breeds), “Locomotive” lupin, a German oats breed “Albatros”, working directly with producers and breeding enterprises. He upholds crop rotation and farming technologies.
I ask Ivan how he came to be a farmer.
“I moved here from Kyiv when I married my wife, and used to walk around the outskirts of Rafalivka. It was sad to watch most of the fields being unused. I go to Holland all the time visiting my friends who are decorators, and see every tiny plot of land cultivated. They also have a lot of experience in organic farming. So finally I decided to take that risk and approached the Head of our local Council offering cooperation. He redirected me to Liubakhy, as the soils there were somewhat better and the people there had their plots of land properly registered. Yet people were hesitant to lease out, as many of them had already been conned by my predecessors. However, some people did put their trust in me. That’s how I came to cultivate land. I registered my company here with the local council, as it means taxes and jobs. The fellas working for me used to do odd jobs. Now they have jobs and incomes. I can’t say that farming is very profitable today, given that the war has altered prices on seeds and chemicals, along with human factor. However, we are holding on, working for the defense, and supporting the national economy,” shares Ivan while showing me his crops.
“But why keep bees, if you could be farming without them?” I asked Ivan.
“You see, to a farmer, bees are like a canary in a coal mine. To my community, my bees are living indicator of my honor and my work ethics. Bees are delicate and clean creatures, passing everything through their bodies. If I abuse poisonous treatments, the bees die. When they live, I get better crops, more satisfaction [from my work], as well as tasty and wholesome products from their life’s work. If we, humans, develop an understanding with the nature, as I did with my bees, there’s more trust in farmers like me from people in the community. They see that I do harm to neither nature nor people, and thus, more people are willing to lease out and I can get more land to cultivate.”
The war halted my dream, but failed to kill it
Ivan Pidlisniy’s wagon incorporates only 40 beehives. In order to make profit, the beekeeper has to register the apiary and buy five or six more “Berendey” bee pavilions.
Last year Ivan Pidlisniy had a creative idea to make a “relaxation zone” and “green tourism location” on the premises of the portable apiary. He was planning on building api-cabins (wooden cabins with built-in beehives under sunbeds for apitherapy sessions), and “agro-mansion” (a mansion where the guests would stay in the condition of maximum immersion in the nature). He was hoping to welcome his friends, people from the local community, and tourists alike; that more tourists would visit the Rafalivka community. Besides, Ivan noted that those cabins would be portable, too.
However, that scale project was deterred by a full-scale war.
“I never abandoned that dream, I just postponed it until the victory. On the meanwhile, farming and harvest to support the economy are my top priority. I’ve been struggling due to significant increase in prices, but I received state support. Ideally, our region should prioritize crops and animal husbandry, organic farming, because the local people are well-fitted to that.”
Ivan notes the shift in his thinking since the full-scale war unfolded: he became more rational and more calculative.
“There are things I would do differently were I to return to that first year of my farming in early 2016. I would avoid unnecessary costs and risks. I even commissioned soil analysis only during my second year of farming, while it should have been the first thing to do. Indicative of the level of high acidity of the soil here are horsetail, plantain, moss, horse sorrel, and watercress. In my first year of farming, I sowed varietal wheat, only to find it burnt by the sun. The best crop rotation in this soil is lupine. While they say it extracts nutrients, this plant basically saturates the soil,” shares Ivan Pidlisniy.
“What about radiation?” I ask
After all, those villages are situated in so-called “third zone”, with some plots having excessive content of cesium and strontium. However, Ivan reassured me that the first thing he did before he began cultivating land was approaching the State Consumer Product Safety Service for their expertise on the matter. Turns out, there are neither limitations nor excess radionuclides contamination of land. There are, however, plots of land previously poisoned by woeful “farmers” due to improper cultivation methods. In some areas, soil has turned to dead sand after someone abused herbicides. Ivan drove us to one such field, where we could clearly see the two spaying machines-wide strip of dead soil across the entire field. That was the work of Ivan’s “predecessors”: they likely doctored the agrochemicals interfering with the ratio of treatments, which resulted in said chemicals just burning through any live matter they were sprayed on. According to Ivan, this land is not good for cultivating for another 3 to 5 tears.
Mr. Pidlisniy noted that was exactly the reason why he chose to stick to more expensive certified agrochemicals. He says those chemicals are safe for insects (bees in particular), and are better for the environment.
“Unfortunately, the widespread irrational practices of misuse of pesticides and agrochemicals are harmful for both public health and the environment. This farm makes a case on how following simple rules helps to significantly reduce environmental risks. Using treatments from reputable producers, compliance with the product instructions, timely notifications of the local population and neighboring farms are all necessary steps both for the farm and the community. Some chemicals, however, tend to accumulate in the environment, thus necessitating regular monitoring of water and soil in order to timely detect any emerging problems. Better yet, the farmers can learn how to minimize the use of synthetic treatments or abandon the practice altogether, switching to biological plant protection treatments instead,” comments Anna Danyliak, a sustainable agriculture expert from NGO “Ecoaction”. “We also discuss those treatments in terms of our online course “Eco Practices for Farming and Communities.”
Ivan believes in victory and teaches farming and beekeeping to his son
The man wasn’t scared by the invasion. However troublesome a farmer’s work has been during the February of 2022, Ivan’s family stood by him. He decided to take a risk and added more land plots in spring-2022. He sowed a new reproduction of oats from his German partner, a breeding company generating new breeds of grain crops.
He and his workers sowed their fields as the air raid sirens blared, joking that it was easier for them to keep calm in a tractor where they could not hear any sirens at all. His workers never thought of abandoning their employer, who had been a decent farmer to them and always paid their wages on time. So they trusted him and looked up to him.
Today the Pidlisniys family is enjoying their harvested honey. Despite being produced on the fields cultivated by the man of the house, his wife, two young daughters and a son are safe to enjoy that honey, as they are sure of its quality. Ivan’s son Nazariy is already helping out on the farm; together they spray rapeseed, lupine, and sunflower in the field.
Farming is a hard menial labor, however, it must be approached with a light heart and clean consciousness if one is to gain both the crops and people’s respect. Little by litter the man teaches his son to take proper care of the bees. First and foremost, he warns the boy against repeating his own mistakes.
Farming skills are no bear, they won’t go nowhere
Before bidding farewells, Ivan Pidlisniy shared some of his observations. According to him, it’s best to hire the local farm hands, as they know the local soils, their features and abilities. He discourages other farmers from pinching pennies, as low-quality seeds and chemicals will make the business go bankrupt and lose their reputation. Honey plants definitely need bees, and a farmer needs bees as an integrity check: every time they are tempted to pinch pennies and save on quality seeds or chemicals, they think of their bees and their conscience kicks in. And, most of all, one has to do what they love and love what they do.
You can learn more about Ukraine`s green post-war reconstruction in the agriculture sector via the link > >
Author: Liudmyla Bosyk, photos by Author.
This article was written within the “Prospective of Sustainable Development of Rural Areas” Project funded by the German Federal Foreign Office.