Dam's destruction may cause 'much bigger' problem for Ukraine farming -minister

Local residents sail on boats at a flooded street during an evacuation from a flooded area after the Nova Kakhovka dam breached during a Russian military strike in Kherson

By Pavel Polityuk

KYIV (Reuters) - Ukrainian agriculture's losses from the destruction of the Kakhovka dam could be much higher than previously expected because the disaster inflicted "years" of damage to irrigation, Agriculture Minister Mykola Solsky said on Thursday.

Speaking on national television, Solsky said it was obvious that there would be no water in the region's irrigation systems for "years" and that to repair them, the Kakhovka dam would have to be restored.

"It should be understood that the size of the problem is much bigger," Solsky said.

The agriculture ministry said earlier this week that the dam's destruction would flood tens of thousands of hectares of agricultural land in southern Ukraine and could turn at least 500,000 hectares of land left without irrigation into "deserts".

It said the disaster would cut off water supply to 31 irrigation systems in the Ukrainian regions of Dnipro, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia and these systems provided irrigation on 584,000 hectares.

Solksy suggested the problem was more complex. He pointed out that farmers earned a profit from crops grown on irrigated parts of their lands, and then used these earnings to fund the cultivation of other parts that were not irrigated.

"There were up to 1 million hectares of non-irrigated land per 500,000 hectares irrigated. If the income from irrigated land stops, it is obvious and predictable that farmers will not be able to produce and the consequences will be not for 0.5 million hectares but for 1 or 1.5 million," Solsky said.

He called the problem with irrigation a "major issue for agriculture in the region in the long term".

According to the ministry's data, the dam's destruction has left 94% of irrigation systems in Kherson, 74% of those in Zaporizhzhia and 30% of those in Dnipro regions without water.

The ministry said on Thursday the country could lose several million tonnes of crops because of flooding.

"Without a source of water supply, it is impossible to grow vegetables. Grain and oilseeds will be grown using an extensive model with low yields," the ministry said in a statement.

Ukraine is a global major grain and oilseeds grower and exporter.

(Reporting by Pavel Polityuk, Editing by William Maclean)