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24 June 2020, 11:15

With Pride in Heart: Agricultural giant shares its vision of village of the future

As you enter the agro-town of Snov, Nesvizh District, the first things you see are tidy houses, neat courtyards, good roads, and perfect order. Snov really looks like a village of the future. The biggest employer here is the Agrokombinat Snov agricultural enterprise. This holding company runs multiple businesses, from producing raw materials to selling ready-made meat and dairy products. The company is constantly upgrading its technology and equipment. However, despite all technological advances, work in the agricultural industry remains very hard; a working day of an agricultural worker starts early in the morning and lasts until late at night, with no days off. However, this hard work bears fruit – the company's employees always have fresh and tasty products on their tables, a decent and timely pay, good housing conditions and leisure and entertainment opportunities. The company's employees are really proud of their company.

No bodging

The office of the holding company is easy to find: any passer-by will show you the way to the building that resembles a local administration. Company's chief Nikolai Radoman is not in office right now (he is not in the habit of running the business from his office). While waiting for him, we are interviewing his secretary Olga Yaroshevich. According to her, the company's employees really appreciate their jobs, there are no openings now. Maybe, from 2010 to 2015 there were a few people who just came and go searching for something better. However, at present, the company boasts a well-established team who stick to their jobs because of good salaries, stability and an opportunity to grow professionally. “I have been with the company for about 17 years. I cannot recall a single incident of untimely pay. This fact speaks louder than words,” Olga Yaroshevich says.

Nikolai Radoman comes in. He is absorbed in thought as he is facing a new challenge – the Snov company has incorporated a loss-making agricultural enterprise 17 September that has Br12 million in debts. “A lot has to be invested in this company. We are paying off their debts little by little: we have already paid for the tractors they leased in 2015. The enterprise also acquired (without pay) protective agents, fertilizers and so on,” the company chief complains. The company is now re-distributing its funds and human resources in order to return the struggling enterprise back to normal.

By the way, 700 hectares of land of the 17 September enterprise were transferred to the holding company back in 2005. Meanwhile, another company with 1,250 hectares was merged into Snov and 1,500 hectares were leased in Kletsk District over this time. However, the company is increasing its capacity virtually without incorporating new farmland. “Last year we produced more than 29,000 tonnes of meat and over 30,800 tonnes of milk having 7,500 hectares of arable land. Naturally, we need more fodder, therefore we have to purchase about 25,000 tonnes of grain above what we produce,” Nikolai Radoman says. In January-February 2020 the company's milk output increased by 241 tonnes and meat output by 450 tonnes year-on-year.

The company has proved that 30 liters and even 50 liters of milk from one cow is not a myth, but a reality, a result of hard and efficient work. Last year the company's milk yield from one cow was 10,625 liters a year, while Sychi, one of its best enterprises, posted the yearly milk yield of 11,224 liters per cow. This extra-class milk, just like pork, beef, and poultry are processed by the company's subsidiary. Some of milk and meat are purchased by other processing companies who lack their own raw materials. Dairy and meat products, including milk, sour cream, kefir, sausages, smoked meat and semi-cooked products are sold via the company's branded stores and through state-own retail outlets. Branded stores can be found in the agro-town of Snov, Minsk (including on the Komarovka Market), Soligorsk and Nesvizh. The company also delivers its products to residents of the neighboring districts of Minsk Oblast. About a quarter of the output is exported to Russian regions where these products successfully compete with local produce thanks to their high quality.

Summing up, this diversified company operates six crop growing brigades, eight cattle farms, a pig farm, a poultry farm, a meat processing plant, milk processing, feeds and maintenance shops, an engine yard, a construction team, an oxygen production shop, a meat mill, and a network of branded retail stores.

So, it is no exaggeration to say that Nikolai Radoman, who has been at the helm of the company for 15 years, successfully continues the legacy of the two previous managers: Hero of Socialist Labor Yakov Aleksankin and Hero of Belarus Mikhail Karchmit. The current company chief worked for 27 years under their leadership. When the disease took the life of the previous head of the company, the majority of workers voted for Nikolai Radoman to take over. “Maybe it was the fact that I was a local that played its part. My grandfather and my grandmother, my parents worked here too," he says. “But for me it is a great responsibility for the place where you were born, where everyone knows you. You cannot work badly,” he notes.

Set up in 1951 through the merger of six small farms into the Kalinin collective farm, the enterprise was well-performing from the start. “I understood what direction to take, what to do, how to upgrade the company and expand the production,” Nikolai Radoman says. The first steps were the renovation and new construction at the pig farm complex. 15 years ago the farm held 18,000 head. Today it is 38,000. Other lines of business have also been expanded. The milking herd has grown from 1,500 head up to 2,850. The number of cattle has increased from 9,600 up to 18,000. Annual production of broilers has surged to 14,500 tonnes from 3,000 tonnes. “In general, we have increased the production of meat and milk by three and a half times over the years,” Nikolai Radoman says.

He is sure that there is still room for growth - with the help of science, technology and hard work. This year, for example, Snov plans to modernize the sow farm, to erect three new buildings for fattening of bulls, and culled cows. “We do not keep money in the accounts. We invest everything into upgrade, mechanization, construction, new equipment. We invest all profit minus dividends (10%) and social spendings. Last year we received $8.5 million in net profit,” Nikolai Radoman informed.

By investing as much as possible into the development, Nikolai Radoman understands that people are still the main resource. The company spends 18-20% of all expenses on salaries. The average monthly salary was Br1,084 in 2019, Br1,097.5 in January-February this year. “To attract people, we need to offer a financial incentive. Let's be frank: working for the idea is good, of course, but the salary is more important, especially the one that is paid regularly and on time. Then people will have confidence in the future. We also build a lot of housing, about 20 apartments a year: all white-collar workers, tractor drivers and milkmaids have been provided with housing. Young people first settle in apartment buildings, but later they come to understand that a house with a land plot is way better,” Nikolai Radoman notes.

Another additional incentive for permanent staff (about 1,200 permanent workers, and about 700 seasonal employees) is the right to receive dividends, the size of which depends on the length of service and the complexity of the job.

Investing in your land

There is everything for comfortable living in the agro-town of Snov. “Many district centers do not have the things that we have here: an indoor pool, sports grounds and gyms, and so on,” Nikolai Radoman says while we are getting into the car to go see the production facilities. “For example, we have a cafe, a hotel to accommodate students when they come to gain on-the-job experience. We provide them with meals, put them on the payroll,” he notes.

Agrokombinat Snov boasts the 100% retention of young specialists. Young specialists, if they are ready to work, immediately feel needed here. They are provided with accommodation, good salaries, days off, and, most importantly, mentors. They also have opportunities for promotion, for getting up-to-date knowledge on business trips. Nikolai Radoman himself has incorporated most of the innovations in the company after getting familiar with American, Israeli, Canadian cattle breeding experience. “My specialists sometimes know much more than professors at agricultural universities,” he emphasizes. Delegations from different parts of Belarus and abroad often come to the Belarusian company to gain experience.

The company constantly recruits young specialists from the Snov school. The company's future employees also come from other Belarusian regions. For example, many employees commute from Baranovichi, either by train (the company's bus takes them to the enterprise from the station), or car.

Agrokombinat Snov is not just an employer for local residents. The company also initiated the construction of a cultural center, a consumer services center, a bath and laundry center, three saunas, a department store and many other facilities. “In the Soviet times there was a canteen here,” says Nikolai Radoman pointing to a building. “I bought it out and converted it into a hostel for workers. A children's entertainment center opened its doors last year. The project cost $180,000,” he says.

Nikolai Radoman also supports local talented youth. The local music school, dance studio, vocal and instrumental ensemble, brass band, and theater are as popular as visiting artists. “We pay scholarships to children who participate in school Olympiads. Winners of the district round get one base amount (Br27). Winners of the oblast round receive two base amounts, those of the national round are rewarded by three base amounts. There are also children who glorify Snov with their sports results. Prizewinners get one-time financial rewards,” the chairman of Agrokombinat Snov says.

Agrokombinat Snov invests $400,000 in the social sector every year. For example, there are two kindergartens and two secondary schools on the territory of the company. Agrokombinat Snov provides corporate assistance in repair works. This year plans are in place to landscape villages, renovate the engineering water supply networks, and build a sports center.

It would not be so much fun in the town

Talking about young specialists who appreciated the prospects offered by the company, Nikolai Radoman cited an example of Anastasia Rovdo, who came to the company as a animal technician as part of the postgraduate work assignment system. She decided to stay in Snov and quickly climbed the career ladder to lead the Sychi farm.

“I am from Vitebsk. After graduating from Gorki Agricultural Academy, I was really lucky to get here. While studying at the academy, I heard a lot about Agrokombinat Snov. I have got a new two-room apartment here, where I live with my daughter. The conditions are good and the work is interesting,” says Anastasia.

Today the young manager runs a farm with 930 head of the milking herd (3,780 head in total).

Anastasia Rovdo's farm relies on modern technologies. The veterinary service, the selective breeding service, all employees (ten engineers and 50 workers, mostly young people) aim to increase milk yield and reduce spoilage. “We try to preserve our animals and produce higher yield. It is scientifically proven that the milk yield of the third lactation is the highest, but an animal should be prepared for this. I have a cow in its third lactation period that produces 70 liters of milk a day. There are a few more that produce 69 liters,” Anastasia Rovdo says.

One of the scientific innovations is scrupulous tailoring of the diet that is calculated down to grams. “An average ration is designed for a daily milk yield of 48 liters. However, we have around a hundred high-yielding cows that produce over 50 liters of milk a day. They need special attention,” Anastasia Rovdo explains. We noticed that black-and-white Holsteins in the barn were divided into two groups depending on their diet.

It is difficult to imagine the process of milking 930 cows three times a day at an old farm. Nevertheless, the Sychi farm uses the Yolochka milking machine that can milk 40 cows at the same time and is operated by only three people. After several minutes of milking, the equipment is detached, the room is cleaned and ready to welcome the next group of cows.

If the machine is operated properly, the equipment is attached correctly, the room and refrigerators are cleaned well, the farm gets top-quality milk. “Salaries depend on the quantity and quality of milk, so every employee is interested in the result,” Anastasia Rovdo stressed.

“It is interesting to work here, I don't think that I would enjoy living in a city anymore,” Anastasia Rovdo remarked. “It is hard work, but it is rewarding to set goals, achieve them, and fulfil new tasks. We are happy when people come here to learn from our experience. We are monitoring new expertise and knowledge and advanced foreign practices. We learn all the time. For example, our artificial insemination technician Aleksandr Androsik is currently undergoing a course on embryo transfer, or surrogacy in cows,” she adds.

Closed cycle

Meat processing at Agrokombinat Snov is an unbroken chain of manufacturing facilities that make finished meat products and preserves. The whole cycle is under control at every stage to ensure compliance with the veterinary and sanitary norms. The company also closely controls the quality of raw materials and finished products. In 2018, it introduced a traceability system in processing of pork and beef that collects data at every stage of the manufacturing process, head of the meat processing plant and milk processing shop Andrei Sasim said. This way, customers can learn about the origin of raw materials down to a specific animal or batch.

Head of the sausage shop Alla Miranovich told us that in 1992, when she just started to work at the company, the shop's daily output was 600 kilograms, while today it produces 36-40 tonnes a day. The staff of the shop increased by more than 20 times. The sausage shop currently employs around 200 people, and the meat processing plant – about 600.

“We make more than 350 types of products. We preserve the best traditions and maintain a high level of quality. Every employee is responsible for this. Our formula of success is discipline,” Alla Miranovich believes. Moreover, the facility annually draws up the program “Quality” that sets forth plans to purchase equipment, upgrade the shops, improve technologies, and train the staff.

Chief process engineer of the sausage shop Olga Stankevich has been pursuing a career at Agrokombinat Snov for 11 years. We follow her from one manufacturing facility to another, passing by sterile refrigerators, softly buzzing steel aggregates and mechanisms.

Culinary magic begins with proper preparation of raw materials: cooled materials – pork, beef, and poultry meat – are taken from the refrigerator to the dissection department. Dissection takes a lot of manual labor since high-tech equipment cannot do everything. A number of professionals specializing in various operations are hard at work there. The specialists are trained in-house and regularly improve their skills.

Various beefy parts of animals are then used to make smoked meat products and convenience foods. The rest of the raw materials is used to make sausages. “Every day the raw materials department processes 15 tonnes of beef, 17-20 tonnes of bone-in pork, 5 tonnes of poultry meat for in-house production. The raw materials are used to make 40 tonnes of ready-made sausages and 23,000 preserved meat tins, including convenience foods and gourmet foods,” Olga Stankevich says.

By the way, she is a great fan of Agrokombinat Snov products. “I like our new products. The content of food additives has been reduced as much as possible in them. I trust our products since I know how they are made and I know that the raw materials are fresh and cooled. Frozen meat is used only in accordance with the technology to make raw smoked sausages,” she explains.

To convince the reporters, Olga Stankevich demonstrates the entire process. We see how tenderloin parts are fed to the injector and then to masseurs. We see how pickle juice is injected into meat. To evenly spread the pickle juice, the meat is loaded into a masseur where it is processed for 6-8 hours. The process results in a tenderer product.

Automated machines feed minced meat into various casings in the formation department. The casing choice is versatile and ranges from artificial polyamide skins to natural ones, which are particularly popular in Belarus and Russia. Many of the products are packed in a gas environment and vacuum. These tricks as well as production hygiene and fresh raw materials allow the resulting products to keep well even without preservatives.

Cooked sausages are made according to preset programs in sausage cooking chambers. Raw smoked sausages and dry-cured sausages are made in their own cold smoking chambers and take one to three days to reach the required state. Drying chambers are used to fine-tune the moisture content in the end product.

As we are walking past ranks of shelves loaded with heaps of various tasty products, we can easily understand why Agrokombinat Snov products win various contests and get named the best product of the year. The meat products sell rather fast. All the products made during the day are packaged and shipped to the branded retail chain, other retail chains, and abroad during the night shift.

Nikolai Radoman shared some plans. The company's branded retail chain will be expanded, primarily in the area surrounding the main enterprise. The loop of production and money transfers will be closed then. “We need profit from everything: every cow, every piece of land, every piece of new equipment, and every retail outlet. Decision-making is a great responsibility, this is why my specialists and I confer and weigh all the pros and cons. A wrong decision can entail serious financial losses. If the economy works well, then there will be competitive products on the home market and foreign ones, there will be prospects,” the head of the company concluded.

Photos by Oksana Manchuk

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