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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poland strips

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

From Renaissance to Revelation to Revolution

Today began with a historic town visit followed by a farm tour and heritage farm site.

Zamosc – Renaissance Town

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Today started with a lovely guided tour of the renaissance town of Zamosc, in the south-western part of Lublin Voivodeship. Zamosc was built up from nothing by Jan Zamoyski in the 16th century. You can see remnants of the fortification walls leftover from the Russian occupation of the 19th century.

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Armenian houses

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The Market Square (100x100m) is the main attraction, and host to a number of cultures including Greek, Armenian, and Polish. Most famous are the Armenian houses, heavy ornate with mythological and cultural symbolism. The Town Hall is most impressive.

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Jan Zamoyski statue

The current mayor of the town is coincidentally of the Zamosc family and has been in power for 3 terms.

Wieslaw Gryn – Crops Farmer

20130728_131204Gryn Farms dates back to 1785, and Wieslaw represents to farms’ 7th generation. Poland’s accession to the EU meant that farmers could finally manage their farms like a business.

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20130728_13180420130728_132601 20130728_13190920130728_134105 20130728_143714Currently 600ha (80ha rented), the farms’ largest plot is 35ha and production includes wheat, corn and rape (canola). Wieslaw utilizes strip-tilling to maximize efficiency while preserving the soil. A true innovator, Wieslaw has custom created machinery to meet his production needs. Such engineering costs the farm 1/3 of retail prices for equipment.

Wieslaw is currently getting 12T/ha corn, 7.9T/ha wheat and 4.5T/ha of rape. Rotation is rape – wheat – corn – wheat, with hopes of introducing soybean between corn and wheat. While on the farm, a load of canola was taken off at 6.9% at 30 degs celcius.

½ of Wieslaw’s product goes to the ship yards for export, which costs 10-15% however the price at the docks is higher than domestic.

Wieslaw currently receives $700US/ha, however he’s looking forward to 2015 when Poland will abolish subsidies so that farmers can be rewarded for managing their business well.

With the land split into parcels, Wieslaw feels a lot of unnecessary time is spent trying to remember what’s going on in which field when 565ha are split into, on average, 6ha sections.

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Wieslaw and other farmers are in active protest against a fracking site being set up just down the road.

Some participants went into the field to look at soil samples from corn, wheat, and also, check out the worm population.

The Gryn family provided us with a wonderful lunch – roast pig, salads, buckwheat, and beer. Wieslaw has got to be one of the most passionate and happy farmers I have ever seen.

Upon our departure, Wieslaw noted that he realizes we are not too different around the world and must continue to work together to feed the world and protect our natural resources.

Guciow Farm

20130728_181749 20130728_182759 20130728_182901Next stop was Guciow Farm, a famous ancient village preserved in its original state. The site includes many fossils collected from17 million years ago, along with a collection of meteorite pieces collected as well. And, of course, agricultural tools like a log used for grain drying and household items like snowshoes made of straw.

We enjoyed a meal of pork meat, bacon and sauerkraut along with tomatoes, cucumbers, eggs and soup to start. Every meal begins with soup (beet, sour cherry, chicken noodle, etc.) followed by potatoes with dill, pork, cabbage salad, followed by cake or some sort of dessert. And, I’m not sure what it is, but the tomatoes here are most excellent, as if just picked from the garden!

Off to our first castle tomorrow, and an apiary – stay tuned!

-Heather

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