Polish farmers thrive with EU money

1st May 2009, Comments 0 comments

Although some of the most vocal opponents of Poland joining the EU, many Polish farmers now say they are happy with their new conditions.

Dabkowice -- Dorota Olejniczak is a new breed of Polish farmer, thriving from five years of Polish membership of the European Union with all the subsidies that has led to.

The 26-year-old has degrees in agronomy and animal husbandry, is completing an MBA and taking full advantage of the EU money given to her family's big pig breeding farm.

"There has been an incredible change in the mentality of Polish farmers since we joined the EU," Dorota said at her farm in the central village of Dabkowice.

"Some still aren't willing to change and invest, but many more have really gone full steam ahead and are using EU subsidies to develop their farms."

Before becoming one of 10 new members on May 1, 2004, farmers were among the most outspoken Polish opponents of the EU and among the poorest citizens of the ex-communist state.

Populists stoked predictions of disaster. Farmers were also angry because under the terms of Poland's deal, they would receive smaller subsidies than those doled out to counterparts in older EU states.

Olejniczak terms the lower subsidies "unfair". But she admits her farm has received 600,000 zlotys (133,000 euros/175,000 dollars) in EU aid since 2004, roughly doubling its income and providing cash to modernise equipment and buy new livestock.

A smart new red brick house stands empty on the farm. Olejniczak said the farm has been so busy the family has not time to move in.

Anyone entering farm buildings with livestock must shower and then don special white overalls. Cameras monitor 370 sows around the clock as they are fed and bred with military precision.

"The image of the Polish peasant using a horse and plough in his field -- it still exists maybe in isolated mountain foothills -- but that's the past; the vast majority of farms in Poland are up to European standards," said Wiktor Szmulewicz, president of Poland's National Council of Agricultural Chambers.

"Everyone is eager to get the funds, farmers queue up," added Szmulewicz, a dairy farmer. "They're just upset they're not getting as much as their (Western) colleagues, and the full subsidy is still a far way off. It's a sore point that there isn't really fair competition in the common EU market."

So far this year Polish farmers have received 8.2 billion zlotys (1.84 billion euros/2.43 billion dollars) in direct subsidies from the 27-nation bloc, according to Artur Lawniczak, secretary of state at Poland's Agriculture Ministry.

While in 2004 Polish farmers received just half the aid granted to established EU colleagues, this year the subsidy grew to 70 percent. They will be on a par with western EU states after 2013.

The EU money over the last five years has spurred rapid consolidation in Poland's vast farming sector, said Lawniczak.

While in 2004 Poland had 2.2 million farms -- many of them tiny subsistence farms where the ground was tilled with a horse and plough -- fresh statistics show their number dropped to 1.42 million this year as older farmers sold off land.

The average farm size has grown since 2004 from six hectares (15 acres) to 10 hectares.

While average farm incomes are just 60 percent of those in the non-agricultural sector, they are growing thanks to EU aid, up from about 3,500 -4,000 zloty (782-895 euro/1,039-1,187 dollars) per year in 2004 to 6,200-6,500 zloty this year.

"We estimate that in 10 years the average farm will be 20-25 hectares and the number of farms will fall perhaps even to one million," Lawniczak told AFP.

Poland absorbed a net 14 billion euros (18.6 billion dollars) in EU structural, cohesion and farm subsidies over the first five years of its membership, according to a government report for the EU anniversary.

An additional 68 billion euros (90 billion dollars) in aid is slated for Poland in the EU's 2007-2013 budget, according to the report.

"EU funds have made it possible for Poland to take a huge step forward in development, thanks mainly to the initiative of local authorities taking advantage of the aid," Hanna Jahns, secretary of state at the Ministry for Regional Development told AFP.

Surveys show that over 80 percent of Poles favour EU membership. Grateful for the opportunity to travel and work abroad, enthusiasm appears even higher among young Poles.

"It's difficult to see any negative effects of our EU entry, but the pluses are apparent in all aspects of life," Jacek Markowski, a 19-year-old law student at the University of Warsaw, told AFP.

Mary Sibierski/AFP/Expatica

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