DLG-Mitteilungen magazine, №08/10, August 2010
Stefan Duerr is an exemplary entrepreneur, his group of companies “EkoNiva” sets a positive example for other Russian agricultural enterprises. The company’s farms possess 6.000 head of dairy cattle. In the nearest future this number will be increased to 7.000. Arable land area amounts to 100000 hectares. EkoNiva is one of the major agricultural machinery dealers in Russia. The holding employs over 2100 people in 25 locations in Russia. Stefan Duerr’s name is also inseparably connected with Russian-German relations in agricultural sector. No other German entrepreneur has worked in Russia so long and done so much for the development of Russian-German relations in this sphere as Stefan Duerr.
“Due to his diligence and modesty, he achieved a lot participating in the German-Russian Agricultural and Political Dialogue project”, says one of the experts in the industry who used to work with Stefan Duerr in Moscow.
Stefan Duerr was born in 1964 in Baden-Wurttemberg. He has none of the traits traditionally associated for us with Russian entrepreneurs. Stefan Duerr is the exact opposite of “businessmen”, typical representatives of Russian commercial life, wearing expensive suits and dark sunglasses and driving powerful Jeeps. His sincerity immediately wins you over. In spite of his own competence, he always respects other people’s opinion while being very straightforward in expression of his thoughts himself.
For over 250 years Russian and German people have been sharing a close bond. Two World Wars were powerless to suppress the attraction of many Russian people for Germany. Germans, in their turn, have long been fascinated by the huge unrevealed potentials of Russia. Very often they settle down here like, for example, Stefan Duerr. He lives in Moscow with his Russian wife and four children and rules his “empire” from there.
Mr. Duerr’s career cannot be called ordinary. In 1989, Stefan Duerr arrived in Russia as a participant of the first international student exchange programme. In 1991, the government of Germany vested Stefan Duerr with the authority to establish contacts between agrarians from Russia and Eastern Germany. That was the beginning of the German-Russian Agricultural and Political Dialogue project, successfully operating at present.
Mr. Duerr is still convinced that the decision to stop mass selling of land and preserve large farms was absolutely correct, as the so-called Russian “gold rush” in 1990s could have lead to irretrievable appropriation of land by oligarchs. In the meantime, Stefan Duerr finished his studies in Bayreuth. In 1994 he founded the company “EkoNiva”. “Niva” is the Russian word for field. This name is closely connected with the company’s beginnings in the sphere of biological farming and seed trade.
After the big financial crisis of 1998, the company begins selling agricultural machinery. EkoNiva is the largest dealer of the world famous John Deere company in Europe to date. Since 2003 Mr. Duerr has been investing heavily into the agricultural industry, in particular, milk production which was in a poor state in Russia.
The major investment area for Stefan Duerr is Voronezh region (600 km to the south of Moscow). The governor of the region, Aleksey Gordeev (Mr. Duerr considers him as a friend) a former minister of agriculture of Russia plans to make it an exemplary agricultural region.
The global crisis of 2009 effected Ekoniva as well as many other enterprises. The Russian bank demanded to return the money which it, in its turn, owed to the German bank, anxious to get its funds back. Interest rates for short-term loans at that time were also a big challenge for business owners, amounting to 40%. However, with the assistance of the local administration, the company managed to find a way out.
- “It is good that we don’t only live off the sales, but also develop our own production’, adds Mr. Duerr.
- “And yet, the crisis had its positive effect”, assures Mr. Duerr. – Many speculators who artificially propped up land prices have disappeared. And finally, it became clear that agriculture must bring profit. All the more so, that the governmental subsidies of 2010 in the amount of 2,8 Billion euro, three quarters of which are intended for interest rate subsidizing may be reduced in the coming year.
At present, Mr. Duerr continues to invest largely into the extension of production. This year a new livestock complex for 1200 head will come into service. Its construction and technical equipment required the investment of 9,5 Million Euro. However, last year’s experience did not pass unnoticed. At present, EkoNiva is considering possibilities of employing financial market instruments.