Politics, Policy, People – a Science for Polish agriculture

Today’s itinerary consisted of the opening ceremony featuring a number of key industry players including Poland’s Minister of Agriculture Stanislaw Kalemba followed by 3 blocks of plenary sessions, 4 paper presentation sessions and another wonderful meal prepared by the University.

Participants gained an understanding of the context within Polish agriculture has transformed, continues to change and the future outlook.

While all of the speakers were fascinating and I encourage you to go to ifma19.org or read further, or look for the paper presentations on ifmaonline.org following the Congress, I will share just a bit of what some of the presenters had to say.

Leszek Balcerowicz, former Deputy Prime Minister and current department head and professor at the Warsaw School of Economics spoke about Poland’s transformation (beginning in 1989) from communism to democracy and capitalization’s role in creating sustainable (thereby competitive) economic models.

Professor Balcerowicz made the comment – you can have capitalism without democracy, but you cannot have democracy without capitalism. In Poland and other countries, Balcerowicz demonstrated a dramatic increase in per capital GDP following the move away from communism – as the state towards competitiveness.

Standford University’s Scott Rozelle shared his perspective on how China has gone from zero to hero in terms of economic development, and lessons that other countries may take away as such, especially those developed nations that are being well outdone by the BRICS nations in economic growth and development. Rozelle posits that upon studying the last 50 years, one of the main driving forces for growth and development is agriculture – it is in fact the underlying trigger.

China, which has grown by one California annually over the last 30 years, stimulated growth through:

–          Institutional reform

–          Market liberation

–          Investment in agricultural technologies (and ready-access) – ex. Irrigation

Further to the first point, in 1978 China had 40,000 state farms. What happened when China broke these farms into 200 million family farms (one football field per family) was a 50% increase in productivity as the farmers themselves could individually see the benefits or fruits of their labour and it was an incentive to do well.

Rozelle’s conclusion: the greatest role for government is R&D and extension as for the public good.

Tomasz Zdziebkowski of Top Farms (Spearhead International) spoke to his program managing 70k hectares in in EU using a new farm management conceptualization stemming from an organizational chart that dismantles the concept of the Farm Manager because fundamentally, the Farm Manager cannot do everything in practice, nor is this good management. So, we start with a Board, and separate managers for various productions cross-sectioning with managers in Mechanization, Finance & Administration, and supporting departments. The Farm Manager moves to occupy one of these positions. While the concept of establishing a defined org chart isn’t new (see Dick Wittman’s work from the US), Tomasz adds a Management Information System that fundamentally allows his farms to compare apples to apples ranging from Inputs and Mechanization Costs to Overrun and storage, land tax, subsidies, estate charges and general overhead before subsidies. And, the Farm Manager is not responsible for all of these aspects, but is aware of them.

Moving into policy, Jerry Plewa of the European Commission spoke of the CAP (ag policy). I found it quite interesting to draw comparisons with the Growing Forward 2 policy framework.

CAP is framed within:

Production Competitiveness Sustainability

GF2 is framed within:

Competitiveness Marketing Innovation

I am often curious as to how semantics play a role in the adoption of conceptual frameworks.

The EU has moved to cross-compliance (similar to Canada) – ex. Farmers must fulfill climate and environmental requirements in order to receive support including crop diversity (at least 3 crops), permanent pasture and ecological focus areas for between 4%-7% of land (land is not touched by fertilizers for example).

Other changes include dismantling any quota systems (sugar by 2017, dairy by 2015), investment in the creation of producer groups, increased support for shortening of supply chains, and increased investment in public research, development and knowledge transfer.

Also, under previous policy, all farmers of all types received equal subsidies, and there is now a move towards receipt of subsidies that reflect the nature of individual farm businesses.

Poland will offer duty free quota free on all imports (interesting: more imports come from developing countries than US, UK, Canada, NZ added together).

Ultimate goal of CAP: to create an environment where farmers can be profitable, without compromising the environment.

One aspect of CAP programming that peaked my interest was ‘Retirement Incentives’ – I’d like to learn more about this as the Congress goes on.

Joe Outlaw from the Ag & Food Policy Centre enjoys a very close relationship with Congress and the Farm Bill. Mr. Outlaw was very candid in his discussion. The US is looking to cut the food program by over $20 billion annually.

Outlaw notes that the new Farm Bill will only help when things are really bad as thresholds for kicking in are unprecedentedly low. He predicts corn will drop to $4/bu which is reaching CoP territory – and, we may have a severe problem in that the Farm Bill is really designed to help farmers in times of need – last year $65 billion out of $200 billion went unspent because times were good.

Outlaw spoke of the Dairy Producers Margin Protection program and the Dairy Market Stabilization Program. Ultimately, aiming to decrease production in the US.

Newcastle University’s David Harvey drew some interesting connections between Darwinian and Adam Smith theory related to the survival of the fittest (and his agricultural economics perspective as such). Harvey worked for Ag Canada for some time and was instrumental in bringing about the Western Grains Stabilization Program.

Yelto Zimmer presented on AgriBenchmark – a tool using international partners to create international benchmarks and look at trends and best practices.

Edward Gacek stressed the importance of farmer involvement in Participatory Plant Breeding Programs to create the real context for studying the practical results when science meets implementation at the farm level.

And finally, Roman Izdebski of EkoysteEM reminded us all of the importance of soil health and sustainable practices.

Following these plenary sessions, participants enjoyed paper session – we could choose 4 of approx. 30 offerings on various topics. More later!

Canadian delegates, please feel free to ass your 2 cents – what presentations stood out for you?

We’re off to our first day of farm tours today – I’m looking at the fruit value chain while others are looking at vegetable, dairy, research and other topics.

Questions and comments are welcome!

-Heather

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4 Responses

  1. Enjoying your commentary. I strongly disagree with the esteemed speaker who stated democracy is contingent on capitalism…did he make a distinction excluding the type of rabid capitalism we see sweeping the globe including agriculture?

    • Hi Wendell,
      Thanks for following along. From what I understood, Dr. Harvey is not pro-capitalism, but saw a necessary progression, an evolution. I believe what he was saying is that you have to move through capitalism to get to democracy and the foundations of capitalism will therefore always be there – a natural evolution and capitalism seen as the influx of competition, specialization and trade. His talk was on ‘What’s the point of agricultural economics?’ and he was saying that these foundations of economics (competition, specialization and trade) cannot happen in a undifferentiated world such as communism. And, before we can be democratic, we must be differentiating (enter capitalism).
      From his paper…
      “It is not difficult to find more or less extreme examples of capitalist stupidity and rutality, immortality and outright exploitation. Even in the better democracies, there are still strong and debilitating examples of alienation and exclusion.”

      I hope this helps.

      • Hi Heather – with the added context I agree. There needs to be checks and balances.
        Looking forward to more reports from IFMA

      • Yes, it is a bit difficult to portray the context, but please feel free to just ask – for the plenary and paper sessions, we of course have the full reports, which I can readily provide. And, following the Congress they’ll be posted on ifmaonline.org or otherwise you can pop by and we can chat upon my return!

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