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.





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.


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


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.




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.


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!


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



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!


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!


Poland Shows off its Diversity in Farm Businesses

Today was the second farm tour day and I took part in the Diversity of Farm Businesses field trip.

Strawberry Farm – Grzegorz Mitura

strawberry jonesyGrzegorz’s farm is located in the north-western part of the voivodeship which is constituted by 83% arable land of which 1/3 is strawberry production. His farm also produces corn and wheat.

The farm has grown from 17ha to 100ha since 1996 and a former pig barn has been converted into accommodation for 100 seasonal workers – mostly coming from Ukraine, and making 15 cents/kg harvest picked during harvest. In 2-3 days, seasonal workers can earn the equivalent of a month’s wages in Ukraine.

An interesting tidbit – Grzegorz ensures he provides his seasonal workers with food rather than have them buy their own, because they will purchase the cheapest food in order to retain the maximum wages. However, this results in poor health and therefore, poor performance.

The variety of strawberry being used has been carefully selected as one that does not recognize light, so it keeps producing fruit instead of going dormant when deprived of sun. For Polish farmers, the cost of production is greatly increased by the parceling of land. Grzegorz’s largest plot is 35ha and a lot of time is spent moving between fields. Land prices are approximately $250 EU per acre.

In Poland, there is state-owned and private owned land. Farmer-owned land is much more profitable than state-owned and therefore the state are trying to sell the state-owned land. However, according to Grzegorz, many private firms are buying the land as investments rather being purchased by farmers to work the land.

Machinery costs as approximately $700k EU and the farm supports 3 families – Grzegorz, his parents and his sibling.

Cultivation profitability is:
Total direct costs: 25,038
PLN/1kg strawberry: .71
Gross margin: 44,963

The main challenge? Access to cheap labour force.

It was encouraging to see such a young, vibrant farmer. Very switched on.

Green Factory – Vegetable Processing

fit and easy saladStarted in 2006, Green Factory is a family business that focuses on the production of ready-to-eat salads.

Green Factory employs 211 individuals and cultivates vegetables on 466ha of land and is planning to obtain another 300ha of land in the coming year. Out of the Polish growing season, Green Factory imports product from Spain, France, Italy and Greece to offer fresh vegetables year-round.

Green Factory is one of two suppliers of salad to McDonalds in Poland.

lettuce field

Lettuce field

lettuce harvester

Lettuce harvestor

lettuce workers

Seasonal workers cut, bag and pack lettuce in the field

Mintex – Mint Farm

mintexThe farm was taken over by the parents of the current owners in 1980. The Mikolajcyzk family were the first in the area to start producing mint in this district and are currently the largest producer in Ireland, moving from 8ha to 120ha currently. Mint accounts for 90% of the farm’s revenue, and the farm have just begun strawberry and Melissa (lemon balm) production to extend the opportunities for seasonal workers, which are difficult to obtain for short-season harvesting.

Peppermint Cultivation Profitability:

Total direct costs: 8450
Cost per 1kg: 2.8
Gross margin: 786,000

The vast majority of production is exported to Germany and the final product is dried leaves and not oil as there is no demand/market for oil. Since pesticide suitability for herbs is limited, weeding is done by hand by 30 seasonal workers.

The Mikolajcyzk’s are very conscious of the market and consumer demand, and produce just for that .

Kowalski Kzysztof – Flaxseed Oil, Canola Oil, Pig Production
The family farm produces traditional cold-pressed linseed (flax) and rapeseed (canola) oil s well as breeding Zlotnicka White pigs with the University of Life Science. All product is sold directly from the farm. The waste product from oil production (cake) is fed to the pigs who reside in group pens with a hay mixture bedding.

Started in 1984, currently activities are carried out on 82ha.

flax crushing

Enlargement opportunities are limited by costs of 50-60k PLN/ha.

1 ton of flax = 250 lites of oil

1 ton of canola oilsed = 300 litres of oil




DSC00774Zlotnicka Pigs
– 40 sows produce 14 piglets annually
– Fattening period: 8 months
– 50-55% meat
– Meat does not shrink under culinary conditions
– Good fragrance and flavor

Plans for the future?
– Agritourism
– On-farm meat processing
– Wild rose production

Unbelievably, the pigs did not produce a smell at all and we all came away smelling of roses. Incredible.

Kzysztof treated us to a choir, dancers and food. We had a wonderful time. We also had the pleasure of celebrating Kzysztof’s names day which is similar to a birthday but carries more importance.



polish dancing flax

Last day of the Congress tomorrow, with a great line up!

Saturday we begin our post-congress tour filled with farm visits and historic/cultural sites of Poland, galore!


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!