Swedish Farmers Look to Poland

ICPPC leaders, Jadwiga Lopata and Julian Rose, were invited to come to Sweden by the Swedish Small Familly Farmers Association, in October 2003. This report summarizes their visit.
By Julian Rose

Ake Karlsson is chairman of the Swedish Small Farmers Association and has a 150ha arable and woodland farm at Noordkoping, some 130 kilometres south of Stockholm. Ake and his family are proud of their farm – and especially his herd of beef cattle. But his favorite animals are two cows kept over from his dairy herd , which was sold , along with so many others, in the mid 1990’s, due to falling milk prices and the high costs placed on dairy farms by EU hygiene and sanitary controls.Ake is deeply saddened by the fate of the small farmer under the hands of an EU bureaucracy which pays 80% of its subsidies to 20% of the farmers – the largest ones – and leaves the rest to fight over the crumbs. A short drive from his farm is Hakan Thornell who is equally outspoken about the Common Agricultural Policy. Hakan has 130ha of land comprising both grassland and forestry. A few years ago he applied for EU support for his grassland area, but was refused the money when he cut the grass instead of letting it grow rank. Hakan says that both he and his colleagues were better off financially and more independent before Sweden joined the EU. In order to ensure that visitors understand his feelings he has erected a sign at the entrance to his farm which declares: “EU Free Zone”. He is also pleased to show us a chicken house which is a glass reproduction of the European Parliament’s headquarters, complete with cock and hens."UE free zone" sogn on the Hakan's farm


Glass reproduction of the European Parliament's headquartersStaff of the European Parliament's headquarters


Ake explains that since a subsidy was introduced which pays landowners to do nothing with their grass meadows ( i.e. take them out of agricultural production) significant areas of farmland have been bought-up by wealthy town’s people who then collect the subsidies without making any commitment to the upkeep and management of the farm. Observing the passing farmland as we drive up the motorway, it is apparent how field after field is devoid of any farming activity and how a course grass is the only visible crop.

The next day we are taken to see a small scale goat farm. Here Katarina Ogren looks after 45 goats which she milks twice a day, making a selection of cheeses from each batch of milk. The cheese is then sold to specialist shops, restaurants and the recently opened ‘farmers market’ in Stockholm. It is a highly committed way of life and one which demands a very professional approach. Katarina applied for an EU subsidy to help build-up the farm, but found that the demands of the paperwork were very hard and that the financial returns were lower than the costs which she had to pay to an advisor whose help she needed. At one point 7 controllers came on the same day to inspect the farm and quiz Katarina over hygiene and sanitary controls. Now she is trying to withdraw from the system altogether, recognising that she has more to loose than to gain through trying to aquire EU support.

For the new accession countries there are many warnings to be heeded. The most obvious one must be not to be fooled by governments claiming that farmers will be better off under the EU. The truth is that unless farming fits into an ‘industrial’ or highly specialized category and is operated on a large scale, it stands little or no chance of attracting any serious EU subsidy. Ironically, the farms that fit this description are also the most environmentally destructive, relying heavilly on agrichemicals and monocutural crop production. But, for the great majority of farmers, the burden of regulations and controls that have to be conformed to are quite out of proportion to the financial returns – and this imbalance continues to drive large numbers of out of business.

So what is the answer?

Artur Granstedt , of the Swedish Biodynamic Research Institute, is leading a project to identify the main causes of groundwater pollution run-off into the Baltic Sea. The health of the Baltic is badly effected by agricultural and industrial waste from surrounding countries and parts are close to completely loosing their natural ecosystems and fish stocks.

Artur’s research has revealed that if Poland, with its population of 38 million, follows the same model of agriculture as that adopted by Sweden, with as much pollution to the Baltic per inhabitant, the situation will soon become critical. Sweden contributes 22% of the total load of nitrogen and Poland 28%. But counted per capita, Poland’s contribution is 5kg. Whereas Sweden, with a population of just 9 million, is 20kg. per head!
This reveals that the true costs of industrial agriculture have been ignored by the policy makers and that the example being set by Poland – which is often accused of being ‘out of date’- is clearly worthy of greater respect.

Hans Von Essen , who was our host for three days and who chaired a specially convened seminar at the Royal Academy of Agriculture in Stockholm, fully supports this view and is quite sure of one thing: Poland should not follow the example set by Sweden . Hans recognizes, both as an observer and as a practitioner, the enormous value of the ecological principles that have guided the development of biodynamic and organic agriculture in his
country, but he is aware that this still only accounts for around 10% of Swedish farmland.

Participants at the Royal Academy were very concerned that Poland should not destroy its traditional and environmentally friendly family farms for the sake of conforming to the industrial agricultural model adopted by so many European countries under the Common Agricultural Policy. They believe that many Swedish farmers and also policy makers, recognize that they could learn a great deal from the Polish small scale family farms, opening-up new possibilities for young people to take-up the skills and wisdom which remain an essential part of such farming communities.

The answer is simply:
Most small Polish family farms are sustainable – ecologically, economically and socially. We must learn to understand that this form of farming is not an anachronism, but a picture of the farms of the future.