Reflections: Poland, Farming, Fresh Perspectives

It is a strange feeling to come to the end of our 19th International Farm Management Congress and tour of Poland. 

It seems we have spent a lifetime here with all of the places we have been and knowledge we have gained, and yet, it feels like we only just arrived yesterday. How quickly our IFMA acquaintances become not only our friends, but our family. While we sometimes refer to our ‘home away from home’, it seems we’re at the end of our family reunion! We have all said our goodbyes – with promises to see each other again in 2 years’ time in Canada. I cannot wait to introduce all of you to our IFMA family. 

I am delighted to have been among 17 Canadian delegates at the Congress, and look forward to bringing many more into this wonderful Association.

What a remarkable feeling to be presenting a paper to a room full of delegates from across the globe, only to realize you are in complete harmony with others in Norway, Uruguay and South Africa. And, the connection is made, just like that. We’ve been singing from the same song sheet without knowing it…imagine the harmonies we can make together!

I feel a sense of overwhelming privilege and pride to be part of such a high-spirited and caring group – the best ambassadors for lifelong learning and convalescence through connectivity, the world over. For we know there is always room for improvement and rewards to be had by letting your guard down – by seeing life, farming, agriculture, through the eyes of others.

We quickly forget our differences and see our common ground in humanity and life’s simple pleasures – in living, loving, laughing and learning.

Lasting Impressions
In Poland, the people we have met and the stories we have shared have truly touched our hearts and opened our minds. One night at dinner, our guide Jan told us of his first experience outside of Poland when he was just a boy. He recalls the ‘Western World’ – our colours, the smell of our clothes, our smiles, breathed ‘new life into him’. Humbling, isn’t it?

Poland’s resilience through uncertainty is remarkable.

Fear comes from uncertainty.
~Willian Congreve

I hope that you will take an opportunity to come visit Poland for yourself and learn from its past; our past – and, be inspired in looking around and ahead.

Looking to the Future
You will recall from a previous post that Poland is starting to and will undergo some significant changes in agricultural policy in the coming years. By 2015/17,
– All quota will be removed (dairy, sugar)
– Subsidies will be reduced (~30%) and farms treated individually
– 4-7% environmental preservation of land will be required

The farmers we met seem keen to welcome a more open market as they feel their business management skills will give them the competitive edge over others who depend upon subsidies for financial and risk management. As with all countries, we know that sustainable business depends of profit margins comfortably exceeding cost of production. While variables change in priority and practice, some common themes definitely emerge – labour access and availability, growth and expansion, capacity to sustain, farm succession and working with agricultural policy.

Looking at processing plants like ROJA, removal of subsidies could have a significant impact on supply chain industries – where will the money come from to build a processing plant stemming from a farmer cooperative in future?

Regarding the environmental requirements, this is surely good news to bee keepers who are very concerned about sustaining the bee population. If farmers retain dedicated parcels of land untouched by fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides, bees may have a chance.

One of the limiting factors for farm management and growth is the separation of agricultural plots. Strip agriculture is everywhere, creating a logistical nightmare for farmers. Hopefully as the state continues to see off property, farmers can purchase larger plots of joined land.

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I want to reiterate that this blog is subject to our understanding and perceptions and there is much more to be said and discussed regarding this experience. We certainly welcome your comments and questions, and additions!

Become a part of IFMA!
All of the Congress Papers will be available on ifmaonline.org very soon, and select papers will be published in the International Journal of Agricultural Management.

I invite you all to join us in bringing the 20th International Farm Management Congress to Canada in 2015.

Attend, bring your family, bring your farm team, bring your colleagues, sponsor your students, clients and young farmers.

The International Farm Management Congress is, by far, the best kept secret for lifelong learning in agriculture.

Come join us, won’t you?

While the tours have finished, we will continue to use this blog to share post-Congress updates.

Thanks very much for your support in subscribing and reading the blog!

– The FMC Team

Poland’s Horse and Apple industry, Naturally!

Today is the last day of our adventure in Poland. As we make our way back to Warsaw, we’ll be dropping by one of Poland’s top Arabian stud farms followed by ROJA apple processors.

 

Michałów State Stud Farm
Michałów State Stud Farm has been breeding pure-bred Arabian horses for sixty years.

With over 100 broodmares and 400 Arabians at the stud, Michałów is the largest Arabian facility in Poland, and is considered one of the largest and most prestigious farms in Europe, not to mention the entire globe. At present, Michałów still operates as a subsidiary of the Agriculture Property Agency of the State Treasury in Warsaw.

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Pictured above: Poland, EU and World Champion

The Arabians have won 11 American championships, 8 EU championships and 10 World championships. The Farm holds the world record for selling a female horse for 1,125,000 Euros. On average, the Arabians sell for 70,000 Euro, however lower-end horses can go for 2,000-5,000 Euros each.

We were very privileged to see the 400 horses put to pasture.

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Unique to this Farm is the Tarzan colour of the Tarrant breed (Mongolian descent).

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The Farm enjoys 700ha of land on two farms. 400ha grow corn, wheat, barley and rape, bringing in 1000t/yr.

The farm employs 15 persons for the stud business, and 8 persons for the dairy business. 70% of the farm’s profits come from the Arabian Farm.

The Farm also has a dairy operation of 300 cows (100 Jersey, 200 Friesian). The Jersey milk is used for cheese while the Freisians are used for milk.

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ROJA Farm: Apple Co-operative and Processors
ROJA is a family business. We were toured around and hosted by the founder/owner/president’s son and daughter-in-law.

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ROJA was officially opened in January 2013 as a processing cooperative, collecting apples from 1000 hectares of orchards, which consists of 43 growers. There are no other equity partners in the plant apart from its farmer members who receive equity/voting rights based on their production quantity (at a maximum of 20% equity). The cooperative meet monthly to discuss issues and opportunities. Due to high tech data collection, growers readily receive reports on their apples and traceability is top of the line.

70% of the costs to build the plant were garnered from EU subsidies, while the producers invested the rest (a total investment of 200million PLN for the entire operation).

Subsidies as such ended in April 2013.

According to our host, the plant receives minimal profit because the farmers are guaranteed a certain price for their apples and must be paid first. The plant sets an average price and at the end of the season, if prices were higher, growers receive the difference.

Exports are to England, Spain, France and Russia.

Optimal production is 60,000 tonnes of apples/yr. Each kilogram is sold for approximately 1-2PLN. Poland produced 3.5million tonnes of apples in 2012.
The processing plant employs 56 people.

apple2As the apples move through the assembly line, each apple is photographed 20 times to rate size, colour, shape, etc. so that the apples can then be sorted.
The facility can store 5000 plastic crates of apples (each measuring 3×3 feet). Apples are stored at 35 degs Fahrenheit with 1-1.5% Oxygen. Apples can typically be stored for a year and retain their quality. We munched on apples picked last October and they were absolutely delicious…and huge!

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After the tour, we were invited back to the son’s house. Pretty impressive – a previous state home.

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Tonight we’re back in Warsaw, saying goodbye to our friends and IFMA family to return to our countries and share all that we have learned!

Poland’s Labourious Past: Quarters, Ghettos and Mining

Today’s tour started in Kraków touring through the old Jewish quarter, then into Schindler’s Factory (premise for the film Schindler’s List) and onto the infamous salt mine. All connected by a dark past overcome.

Kraków’s Jewish Town – Kazimierz
The once bustling Jewish quarter arose in the 13th century, growing to 60k-80k Polish Jews.

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Jewish synagogue

Persecution of the Jewish population of Kraków began soon after the German troops entered the city on 6 September 1939, in the course of their invasion of Poland. Jews were obliged to take part in forced labor from September. In November 1939, all Jews 12 years or older were required to wear identifying armbands. Throughout Kraków, synagogues were ordered closed and all their relics and valuables turned over to the Nazi authorities.

By May 1940, the Nazi occupation authority announced that Kraków should become the “cleanest” city in the General Government (an occupied, but unannexed part of Poland). Massive deportation of Jews from the city was ordered. Of the more than 68,000 Jews in Kraków when the Germans invaded, only 15,000 workers and their families were permitted to remain.

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In March 1941, the Germans forced all Krakow Jews to resettle in the newly created ghetto north of the Kazimierz area. 15,000 Jews were crammed into an area previously inhabited by 3,000 people who used to live in a district .2 years later, in March 1943, the Nazis sent most of the remaining 17,000 ghetto inhabitants to nearby concentration camps to perish.

The Ghetto was surrounded by the newly built walls that kept it separated from the rest of the city. In a grim foreshadowing of the near future, these walls contained brick panels in the shape of tombstones. All windows and doors that gave onto the “Aryan” side were ordered bricked up. Only four guarded entrances allowed traffic to pass through.

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Ghetto walls made to resemble tombstones

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Above photo of the gate to the Ghetto taken in the 20th century

Rather than destroying the synagogs, Germans used them for storing goods stolen from the Jewish or to house their horses as a means of disrespect and humiliation.

 

Schindler’s Factory (Museum)

Oskar Schindler was an ethnic German industrialist, German spy, and member of the Nazi party. While Schindler was initially interested in Jewish workers as free labour, he later began to shield them by paying off the Germans to allow for the ongoing employment of the Jewish until the end of WWII.

Schindler is credited with saving the lives of 1,200 Jews during the Holocaust by employing them in his enamelware and ammunitions factories.

By May of 1945, Schindler had spent all of his wealth on bribes and black-market purchases of supplies for his workers, the Jews.

While I was expecting to see remnants of a factory, Schindler’s Factory was a complete museum dedicated to the German invasion and devastation of Poland and its Jewish community to help us better understand what happened leading up to, during and after WWII.

The walls are littered with photographs, letters and propaganda. I did not think it right to take photos within the museum.

Here is the sign posted on the exterior of the museum:

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We took lunch in the market.

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Wieliczka Salt Mine

The Wieliczka Salt Mine was built in the 13th century and produced table salt from rock salt until 2007. It remains in operation today using water to garner salt instead of mining for rock salt and is one of the world’s oldest salt mines still in operation.

The salt mine reaches a depth of 327m and is over 287 km long. The tourist route is 3km long.

The mine is most definitely more than I expected. The shafts are reinforced by logs and throughout the mine you see dozens of statues, a number of chapels and even a cathedral – all carved out of rock salt by miners.

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Walkways in the mine supported by logs

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Underground Cathedral within the mine, made entirely of salt including the floors, frescoes, chandeliers

Also, the mine used horses! Typically spending their lives in the mine, horses were provided stables and suffered no ill health effects (ex. Blindness) from the work. The last horse was used until 2002 and was then returned to a paddock on the surface for retirement until he passed away last year (2012).

Approximately 1 million people visit the Wieliczka Salt Mine annually.

The Salt Mine is renowned for its natural healing properties. They run camps for children in the mine – those suffering from asthma and other breathing complications spend up to 6 weeks at a time in the mine and see improved health. The children sing and do special breathing exercises to take advantage of the sterile air.

 

Poland – a Turbulent Past, a Resilient People

Today was about absorbing the history and culture felt by Poland through the ages from the 7th century through to the horrors of WWII.

Poland’s History in Brief
5th – 8th Century – Arrival of the Slavs, permanent settlement and historic development
966 – Christianity adopted, medieval monarchy established
1569 – Establishment of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth
1795 – Russian Empire, the Kingdom of Prussia and the Austrian Habsburg Monarchy terminated the Commonwealth’s independent existence
1918 – Opportunity for freedom appeared after World War I, when partitioning imperial powers were defeated by war and revolution
1918 to 1939 – Second Polish Republic was established
1939 – Nazi Germany and Soviet Union invaded Poland, millions of Polish citizens perished
1945 – Soviet Red Army defeated Nazi Germany, leading to the creation of the People’s Republic of Poland under communist regime
Late 1980s – Poland became a democratic state resulting in the creation of the modern Polish state
2004 – Poland accession to the European Union

 

Kraków

We are staying in Kraków for two days. Kraków is the second largest and one of the oldest cities in Poland, dating back to the 7th century.

After the invasion of Poland at the start of World War II, Kraków became the capital of Germany’s General Government.

In 1978, Karol Wojtyła, archbishop of Kraków, was elevated to the papacy as Pope John Paul II – the first Slavic pope ever, and the first non-Italian pope in 455 years.

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Wawel Royal Castle

Wawel Castle was built in the mid-to-late 14th Century.

The interior is adorned with a number of tapestries wall-to-wall. At the beginning of the WWII, some 150 tapestries were set to Canada for safe-keeping and returned thereafter. There is a plaque on the entrance wall commemorating Canada as a safe haven for Wawel’s treasures.

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The room shown above includes tapestries depicting Genesis. Tapestries were used to insulate the walls.

Auschwitz – Birkenau

I had mixed feelings about visiting Auschwitz – Birkenau today. I had the desire to learn, but at the same time I wanted to honour those who lost their lives – may they rest in peace.

Upon entering the first building, I read the following sign, which helped me come to terms with the significance of our presence.

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To respect the 1,300,000 people who lost their lives here, I will only share the following image – the entrance sign to Auschwitz.

It reads “Arbeit macht frei” which translates to “work/labour makes (you) free.”

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Poland – Rich History, Beautiful Country

Today was less ag, more cultural, beginning with a bus trip that took us into Slovakia. It was just like crossing over from Ottawa to Gatineau in that there was no border check or anything – we just drove straight on through.

According to our guide Jan, it was not always this way. Until the 1980s the border was patrolled by dogs, guards, protected by barbed wire and it was not uncommon to be completely searched. This was under the Czechoslovakian regime. Today, the Polish and Slovacs get on very well.

Niedzica Castle
niedzica1Niedzica Castle is located in the southernmost part of Poland in Niedzica. It was erected between the years 1320 and 1326 by Kokos of Brezovica on the site of an ancient stronghold surrounded by earthen walls in the Pieniny mountains.

The Niedzica Castle stands at an altitude of 566 m, on a hill 300 m upstream from the Dunajec River. The outline of Niedzica. It is known as one of the most picturesque castles in the country and adorns the covers of many books.

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The last inhabitant of the castle left Poland in 1943 during the war. The castle was then seized by the Soviet Union, all of the contents burned, and has gradually been restored.

Dunajec Rafting
dunajec1The Dunajec River Gorge runs through the Pieniny Mountains in the south of Poland and the north of Slovakia (as Dunajec is the border river between the two countries in the area). The gorge is characterized by some of the most interesting geological and geomorphological structures and area-specific natural ecosystems with little anthropogenic influence.

Wooden canoe trips have been organized daily by Goral highlanders between April and October since the early 19th century — when their customers consisted mostly of guests of nearby Niedzica and Czorsztyn castles.

The trip began in the village of Sromowce Kąty, and ended in the resort town of Szczawnica, 18 km downstream. It took about 2-3 hours and was absolutely breathtaking. The surrounding rock reaches 300 m in height almost all the way through.

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Following rafting, we had a lovely lunch in a nearby village – egg, white sausage and flour soup followed by potato pancakes stuffed with pork and a nice poached pear for dessert.

It was then off to Krakow, with a gorgeous view of the mountains and scenery on the way.

40% of Slovakia is forest, while 30% of Poland is forest.

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We’ll be staying 2 days in Krakow for what promises to be a very powerful experience exploring some of the history here. During dinner, our guide Jan spoke of his recollection of socialism and it was both fascinating and terrifying.

-Heather

Efficiency at its Finest – from Bees to Sheep to Windows?

Business is business.

Today started with a visit to the Centre for Apitherapy in Kamianna followed by Sheep Farming with Roman Kluska, followed by a tour of the Fakro rooftop windows factory.

Centre for Apitherapy
apitherapy1Kamianna is a small town of 200, of which 100 are currently employed by the Apitherapy Centre. It is the honey capital of Poland!

However, let’s start at the beginning. Dating back to the 16th century, the villagers were extradited in 1947 to Ukraine.

In 1960, Dr. Henry Ostach arrived in Kamianna. He was a beekeeping enthusiast and a great social activist. From this moment, Kamianna has continued to undergo significant prosperity and development whilst staying humble in tradition and roots.

The hives produce 70kg/hive/yr in a good year.

Some value-added products:

– Pollen (rich source of vitamins)
– Bee bread (used in cancer treatment)
– Propolis solution, ointment, suppositories, intravaginal tablets, cream
– Beeswax candles

apitherapy2The Centre also delivers honey to the Pope.

A little tidbit for my mum – burning beeswax helps calm the nerves of palliative patients as well as relieving the stress and anxiety of those around them.
Queens are produced using artificial insemination, if you can believe it. Here’s a peek inside the laboratory where this is performed.

Ecological Sheep Farming of Roman Kluska
ecosheep2The Kluska farm specializes in Fresian sheep for cheese production using ecological practices including natural breeding and selection of traits. All product is non-GMO and therefore neighbouring sheep are not allowed to pasture on the property for risk of GMO contamination.

This farm business includes a number of elements in the supply chain to keep costs and resources under control including on-farm cheese processing and water treatment facility.

I have to say, these were the cleanest sheep I have seen as they are bred for no hair on the tail.

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Sheep farming facts:
– Produce 1-4L milk/sheep/day
– Milk twice a day with 40 milking stations
– No artificial insemination
– Lambing February – April (sometimes into May)
– 300 ewes, 250 lambs
– Lambing at 1.9
– Not allowed to slaughter on farm for meat
– Wool purchased by external companies
– Price margins poor due to excessive regulations

The Cheese
– 200L milk = 50kg cheese
– 200PLN/kg of cheese retail

The farm is aiming to grow to 1000 sheep and will need to acquire neighbouring land to do so, which is available in the area. The current farm is 100ha and land prices average 100,000-200,000PLN/ha (to get dollars, divide by 3).

FAKRO
FAKRO was established in 1991 by founder and current COO Ryszard Florek from his own woodworking shop established in 1986. Now, FAKRO is world leading, producing 15% of the global share of roof windows.

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And, what does this have to do with agriculture? 2 things: 1) they produce windows for barn roofs, 2) they have a from-the-ground-up entrepreneurial business approach that has resulted in much success. Great management is evident here from the people to the product.

Oftentimes, I get asked to bring good business examples from outside of agriculture to provide a new perspective on agriculture and business management, and FAKRO allows us to do just that. Made up of 12 manufacturing companies and 15 foreign subsidiaries all over the world, FAKRO employs 3300 people.

In terms of environmental responsibilities, FAKRO is FSC (meaning they source wood only wherein the rate of new planting exceeds the rate of removal). And, their products help create better energy efficiency for buildings and homes.

FAKRO treated us to a lovely lunch followed by a presentation by Kris. We even got to wear 3-D glasses to see how they use software to view their product from every angle and choose functionality and innovations.

Participants were toured through the factory and also got the chance to see some of their quality control measures.

Their rooftop windows are really quite remarkable – from 180 pivot windows to fire escapes to creating small balconies.

Following the factory tour, we were treated to another wonderful dinner with stuffed peppers, stuffed zucchini, goulash and cold cuts followed by an evening of 10 pin bowling. Razzle dazzle, what a wonderful day we’ve had!

Onto Niedzica castle tomorrow.

-Heather

Royalty and Queen Bees of Poland

Today began with a journey to Lancut Castle, dating back to the early Medieval Ages (1300s).

 

Lancut Castle

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In the second half of the 18 century, the fortress was converted into palace-park complex.

In 1944, then owner Alfred III Potocki fled the castle for Sweden, taking with him 11 carriages of goods. It was there that he lived out his days. Having never born any children, the castle became state-owned and is now a national treasure.

Moving about the castle, we had to don fleece slippers so as to not damage the extremely ornate floors.  I’m surprised everyone stayed upright, as it was like walking on ice!

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Unfortunately, we were not able to take photos inside of the castle, but the decorations were the most elaborate I have seen and included a multicultural flare including a Chinese room.

 

lancit castle interior

 

Sadecki Bartnik

20130729_171218Sadecki Bartnik is a wonderful tribute to the history and modernization of bee farming – apiculture.

After a glorious lunch of honey/mint water, potatoes and dill, chicken and pickled cabbage, Paul, our guide, toured us through various bee hive designs and measures to keep bears and other predators away.

Interesting facts:

  • Einstein once said that if the bees disappear, people will only survive for 4 years if there is nothing to pollinate the flowers of plants bearing fruit and vegetables
  • Bees are in danger from pesticides and herbicides as well as parasites, fungus and mites
  • The queen bee produces 3000 eggs per day and typically can last 7 years before removing herself from the hive to die (so as to not dirty the hive)
  • If the queen does not produce sufficiently, she will be removed from the hive
  • The smoker used by the bee keeper alerts the bees to a fire so they fill up with food to ready to move hives. In this state, the bees swell around their stinger and cannot hurt the bee keeper
  • Bees ‘dance’ to indicate where nectar can be found and how much nectar bees must ingest to make it there
  • Bees flap their wings to keep the hive cool/regulated in temperature

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We then set off for Muszya, famous for its mineral water. Upon arrival, we were treated to a lovely dinner of split pea and ham soup, chicken kabobs, steak, perogies, grilled sheep cheese, potatoes and sausage!

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And, we got our dance on!

-Heather