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.


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 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 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.



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.


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.


Ghetto walls made to resemble tombstones


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:


We took lunch in the market.

market krakow


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.


Walkways in the mine supported by logs




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



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.




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.






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.


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.”


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.

ecosheep ecosheep4 ecosheep3

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 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.

fakro1 fakro2 fakro3

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.


Royalty and Queen Bees of Poland

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


Lancut Castle

lancut castle
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!

lancut castle exterior

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

20130729_170849 20130729_171551 20130729_171711 20130729_173053

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!


And, we got our dance on!


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


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.


Armenian houses


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.


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.


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.


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!


From Flowers to Fertilizer – Big production in Poland

The Post-Congress Tour of Poland is officially underway.

Departing Warsaw, our first stop was JMP flowers owned by the Ptaszek family.

JMP Flowers


aranthium colours

The green house is considered the most modern in the world and is derived from a Dutch design. JMP flowers produces the Anthurium, Roses and Orchids. Started in 1977, the family has grown to the largest flower producer in Poland and the second largest producer of anthurium in Europe.

At 11ha, the company employs 100 workers for continuous cutting of over 60 varieties of roses, 4 types of anthurium and several dozen types of orchids. All picking/cutting is done by hand.

Before entering the greenhouses, delegates were required to disinfect hands and feet – a contrast to the lack of biosafety at the pig farm visited earlier in the week.


aranthium pinkAt 11 years old, the crop becomes economically unviable, however technically, the plant could live forever. Once cut, the flower can live from 3-7 weeks.

aranthium lots

greenhousesJMP embrace innovation. Typically anthurium produces leaf-flower-leaf-flower, limiting the amount of flowers you can derive from a single plant. However, JMP discovered that if they cut the leaves when they’re young, they’ll maximize photosynthesis for the flower without crowding out room for more propagation per m2. This resulted in a 20% increase in production, and also, a decrease In labour as employees could move through the flowers much quicker with less greenery crowding. Now, other greenhouses are adopting this method.


Rose production is extremely labour intensive. Roses are cut up to 3-4 times per day, which required 4.5 persons per hectare cutting 50,000 stems per day. Employees receive 1 day off per week.

Roses can receive 1.5-7 PLN/stem. Employees are paid a salary (12 PLN/hr) plus incentives for more stems/hr. Our host commented that when an employee sees their friend working hard, they’ll work harder too. All employees are Polish locals, to ‘give the employees a sense of pride and belonging to the company’.

JMP’s rose production represents the largest air conditioned project in the EU.


orchidsOrchids represent 5hs of production and is the most automated of the 3 flowers. Orchides are photograohed 360 degrees so that the employees can input desirable traits into a computer and the automated assembly line can gather such plants for shipping.

When JMP started into this business, import of orchids nearly ended in Poland.

In terms of the 3 flowers, orchids are the higher cost, but bring in more revenue to cover the other production, followed by roses and finally anthurium. 1ha of the orchid greenhouse without plants can buy 8ha of a tomato greenhouse totally loaded with plants.

As a competive advantage, JMP can start flower production 2 weeks in advance of others. JMP also uses high tech data collection instruments to determine the forecast (ex. Cloud cover) 2 hours in advance, and also track employee productivity to make management decisions. For instance, if the company garners increased value from a certain crop, only to find out the production costs an hour per day more in labour, it may not be financially viable to pursue that crop anymore.

Future goals are to have less employees, however earning higher salaries. JMP does not receive any subsidies from the EU because there are no specialists able to evaluate production.

Grupa Azoty – Pulawy

pulawyOur next stop was the Pulawy fertilizer plant that specializes in the production of nitrogen fertilizer (urea) and is one of the world’s largest producers of melamine. Grupa also offers engineering plastics, from OXO alcohols through to plasticizers and pigments. Their own R&D, design and servixing units allow them to render various services.

Of most interest…the CO2 as a waste product from the company’s main production is being used under high pressure and temperature to extract oils from pumpkin, blackcurrant, raspberries, hops and other products. The hops extract is being used to supply 30% of German beer company’s requirements (ex. Carlsberg), and some extracts are going for $1mill/kg due to their cancer treatment qualities.

Tonight we are off to Zamosc and starting tomorrow with a guided tour of the renaissance city followed by 2 farm visits: Wieslaw Gryn and Guciow Farm.