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Farming in Poland

A fascinating article about change in farming in Poland


Old Ways, New Pain for Farms in Poland

STRYSZOW, Poland —Depending on your point of view, Szczepan Master is either an incorrigible Luddite or a visionary. A small farmer, proud of his pure high-quality products, he works his land the way Polish farmers have for centuries.

He keeps his livestock in a straw-floored “barn” that is part of his house, entered through a kitchen door. He slaughters his own pigs. His wife milks cows by hand. He rejects genetically modified seeds. Instead of spraying his crops, he turns his fields in winter, preferring a workhorse to a tractor, to let the frost kill off pests residing there.

While traditional farms like his could be dismissed as a nostalgic throwback, they are also increasingly seen as the future — if only they can survive.

Mr. Master’s way of farming — indeed his way of life — has been badly threatened in the two years since Poland joined the European Union, a victim of sanitary laws and mandates to encourage efficiency and competition that favor mechanized commercial farms, farmers here say.

That conflict obviously matters to Mr. Master. But it is also of broader importance, environmental groups and agriculture experts say, as worries over climate change grow and more consumers in both Europe and the United States line up for locally grown, organic produce.

For reasons social, culinary and environmental, small farms like Mr. Master’s should be promoted, or at least be protected, they say. They not only yield tastier foods but also produce few of the carbon emissions that contribute to global warming.

In part because Poland has remained one of the last strongholds of small farming in Europe, it is also a rare bastion of biodiversity, with 40,000 pairs of nesting storks and thousands of seed varieties that exist nowhere else in the world.

But European Union laws are intended for another universe of farming, and Polish farmers say they have left them at a steep disadvantage. If they want to sell their products, European law requires farms to have concrete floors in their barns and special equipment for slaughtering. Hygiene laws prohibit milking cows by hand. As a result, the milk collection stations and tiny slaughterhouses that until a few years ago dotted the Polish countryside have all closed. Small family farming is impossible.

“We need to reward them for being ahead of the game, rather than behind it,” said Sir Julian Rose — an organic farmer from Britain — who, with his Polish partner, Jadwiga Lopata, founded the International Coalition to Protect the Polish Countryside some years back and has been fighting the regulations.

“The E.U. has adopted the same efficiency approach to food as it has to autos and microchips,” he said. “Those who can produce the most are favored. Everything is happening the reverse of what it should be if they care about food and the environment.”

The small farmers who have rallied behind the coalition here in southern Poland have touched a deep nerve and gained broad influence.

Ms. Lopata received the prestigious Goldman Prize for protecting the environment for her quest to preserve traditional farms. Prince Charles visited her farm (by helicopter) with its solar panels and the black sheep (responsible for mowing the grass) in the yard.

All 16 states of Poland have now banned genetically modified organisms in defiance of European Union and Word Trade Organization mandates. Last month, the Polish Agriculture Ministry announced that it planned to ban their import in animal fodder, another refusal to accept European Union policy.

In Brussels, headquarters of the European Union, officials say they have no desire to undo Polish tradition. “We are not advocating the industrialization of European farming — from our side we think there is a place in Europe for all shapes and sizes of farms,” said Michael Mann, spokesman for the European Commission Agriculture Directorate. But, he said: “There has to be some restructuring to become more competitive and less reliant on subsidies. Farming is a business. They will have to look for market niches.”

The European Union currently pays farmers who meet health and sanitary standards a subsidy, to help maintain Europe’s farming tradition and as an acknowledgment that it is more expensive to farm in Europe than in other parts of the world.

It also provides matching funds to all European Union national governments for agricultural development, to upgrade and modernize farms. The national governments decide what types of projects qualify, but the boundaries are loosely defined. In various countries they have included buying new equipment and developing organic cultivation, as well as turning nonperforming farms into bed-and-breakfasts.

In a coming review of such polices, the European Commission is planning to encourage spending more money to develop organic agriculture. “The whole idea is to empower farmers,” Mr. Mann said


Read the rest of the article here:

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/04/04/world/europe/04poland.html?pagewanted=2&_r=1

Re: Farming in Poland

Isn't 'Master' a starnge surname for a Pole

Re: Farming in Poland

Maybe this farmer has German roots?