By Dr Keith Dawson

Well the back of another Ukrainian harvest is almost broken with all the rape, wheat and barley safely in store. All the rape is drilled and the barley sowing well underway now that better, though catchy, weather has returned.

Yields are down in the cereals due to a wet autumn giving late entry for wheat followed by a late spring and summer drought. By contrast it was our best year ever for oilseed rape despite hail losses. There is still a literal mountain of sugar beet to lift but early yield indications are on target, as they are with the first 400ha of soya harvested, though it is early days.

Our autumn campaign this year will be our largest so far with a harvest of 45,000ha and sowing of a further 30,000ha of winter crop. This is daunting, but even this farming mountain is only another way mark on an exciting, uniquely Celtic fast forward journey into the future, of which more later.

First a little history and background to our exciting news if you will indulge me?

It has been 13 years since Mark and I started our Ukrainian adventure together and convinced Russell and George Taylor to join us on a modest punt to grow 90ha of tatties for the local market. I convinced my bank manager to remortgage my home, in order to build an extension. I omitted to tell him that the footings of that extension would be laid in Western Ukraine.

We first scraped aside a foot of snow to dig our first soil samples together in the bitter winter of 2005. Our shared vision was to develop a new global agricultural model with scale, based on our hard earned experience in Poland. Before Continental Farmers, there were two main global agricultural production models for broadacre crops. The first was low input and large scale, exemplified by the US and Australia. The second model was one of high input and relatively small scale as in the UK and Germany.

Our shared vision was to develop a third way, that of targeted higher input coupled with large scale, but with a high level of both environmental and social stewardship.

Mark's immense experience in CEE and Poland would be the firm and immutable bedrock upon which our initial and subsequent investments would have their rock solid foundation. The economies of scale with the economies of skill, if you will.

As regular readers will recall the agronomic and operational challenges have been significant and varied. We added area each year and de-risked with a spread of crops in a sound rotation and geographical spread N and S of Lviv in Western Ukraine near the Polish border.

The business has developed on a rapid forward trajectory ever since, with support from private Irish investors, and then with a shareholding acquired by the Irish AgConglomerate Origin, who also own Masstock as part of their portfolio. Their faith and support in our vision was the stuff of legend in those early days, and the business owes them much.

Patience was an important quality for us all, whether shepherding seed potatoes through customs or dealing with local politicians. Whether avoiding corrupt coercion, dealing with dead drunk policemen, or standing in a multitude of village halls explaining to the hundreds of small landholders of derelict land why they should rent to a group of Scots, who'd arrived as if from Mars into the unfavoured Western Ukraine. This against a landscape of well placed distrust of foreigners based on centuries of hardship and the Russian land collectivisation that led to the "death by hunger" of 7m Ukrainians in their Holodomor or Holocaust.

We both saw the unique opportunity of good, but neglected, soil at a highly competitive rent, coupled with both an equable climate with adequate moisture and a helpful local government in the Oblast. We also saw the urgent need for foreign investment in this unfashionable and poor region with huge unemployment and rural depopulation. Fortunately the Scots reputation for fair play and prudence helped, remember this was in the days before Fred the Shred soured that valuable credential.

We were complete pioneers and as one of my Polish friends said on visiting five years in "you've only succeeded in this because you weren't aware it was impossible". An IPO launch on the AIM stock market in London followed in 2010. Then just before the Crimea was annexed and the Donbas invaded, the business was sold to a consortium headed by the the Saudi Agricultural Sovereign Wealth Fund SALIC under United Farmers Holding Company.

All the existing management team, both local and international were committed and energised to develop the business further, under their financial and political umbrella, but holding true to those early and continuing principles.

Many of that international team to this day with very strong Scottish connections. The aim was still a four-legged stool of growing the highest yield, at the lowest cost of production per tonne, of a quality the market wanted to buy, with a high level of environmental and societal responsibility. Leveraging not only know how but know how to.

So where to from here? For over a year now, we have been working hard on an acquisition project to take not just the next step forward, but an immense and daunting, but exciting leap. Few could have conceived of this leap, let alone brought it home, but that is what makes Mark and indeed the whole team unique.

Last Wednesday, a deal was signed in Kiev in the presence of President Poroshenko on live TV, signifying it's importance to Ukraine, to acquire the farming company Mriya under our control. This takes the combined arable area in one stroke to just above 200,000ha. The acquisition constitutes the largest agricultural deal in Ukrainian history and is a significant step for both the Ukrainian economy and global food security. It also makes it the largest intensive arable business in Europe at over 2000km2 of cropped land, or to put it another way the same area as the county of Angus.

So a major leap forward, but, one based on the sound basis of unrivalled experience in this testing arena, coupled with considerable testicular endowment.The future is yet unwritten but two things are certain. By our move we have safeguarded more than 2000 agricultural jobs directly in Mriya together with all the ripple effect jobs up and downstream.

We have also further developed the capacity of the Ukrainian agricultural economy to adopt and exploit new technology and new investment. From small acorns mighty oaks do grow and there is growth still yet in this particularly fruitful tree.