PERVOMAISK, CRIMEA — The Kalinina farm collective near Pervomaisk in northern Crimea is busy with seasonal workers loading sacks of cabbages, or gathering up carrots in the big muddy fields. It looks like a successful harvest, but it’s a result of almost three years of hard struggle to adapt to new conditions here, after vital water supplies from Ukraine’s mainland stopped in 2014, following Russia’s annexation of Crimea.
“Now we have to lay out these maggots,” said farmer Vladimir Vasilievich, kicking a huge roll of plastic piping which snakes all over his carrot fields, providing a drip irrigation system which has to be replaced every two seasons.
Pervomaisk Administration Head of Agriculture Vladimir Mironyuk indicated an adjacent field green with a crop of winter grain. Farmers have switched to these less profitable crops, because they can use natural winter moisture. “But if we had Dnipro water,” he said resignedly, “the crop yield would be twice as high.”
With an average annual rainfall of just 330-350 millimeters, and no surface water sources, Pervomaisk district is entirely dependent on boreholes for drinking water and, until 2014, on irrigation for agriculture with water from the Dnipro River supplied via the Northern Crimean Canal. In spring 2014, 15,000 hectares were ready or planted for cultivation, providing work and income for the vast majority of inhabitants of this flat, inhospitable region.