Thursday, April 10, 2008

Why I'm going to Poland...

I'm heading off to Poland along with other stops in July. This will be my big experiment in "vlogging" (video blogging - a term which never really caught fire). If the video is mildly competent, we may try to use some in USFR. I will be visiting the main manufacturing plant for Kongskilde Industries and talking with my friends in Denmark as well as visiting some Polish farms.

And trying to keep my expenses down to oh, a few hundred $ a day...

But Poland is in the middle of compressing a few centuries of progress into a decade as their accession to the EU has wrenched the lives of millions of Poles who still live on very small farms.
While overall farm income in Poland has gone up since the country has joined the European Union, that is certainly not the case for the small farmers here. In Poland, 22 percent of the work force is employed in agriculture, and the country boasts by far the highest number of farms in Europe. Most of them are tiny. The average farm size is about 17 acres, compared with about 59 acres in Spain, France and Germany. There are 1.5 million small farms in Poland. Only Italy, with its proliferation of high-end niche agricultural products, compares to Poland in its abundance of small producers. But the fall of Communism and, more recently, European Union membership have opened this once cloistered land to global forces: international competition, sanitary codes, trade rules and the like. Sir Julian recalls that at an agricultural conference in 1999 a pamphlet advertised “Poland up for grabs!” That is what has happened, he said. In a market newly saturated with huge efficient players, these small traditional farmers are being overwhelmed. The American bacon producer Smithfield Farms now operates a dozen vast industrial pig farms in Poland. Importing cheap soy feed from South America, which the company feeds to its tens of thousands of pigs, it has caused the price of pork to drop strikingly in the past couple of years. Since European Union membership, the prices of pork and milk have dropped 30 percent. [More]
My friends in Europe see Poland as a new agricultural frontier, but like native Americans, I wonder if the existing residents will make it through the adjustment. Polish farmers in particular were a hard sell on the accession referendum.

Meanwhile Polish laborers are flooding into EU states as low-cost, highly skilled labor (hence the Polish plumber jokes in Europe), many are leaving the farms for the opportunities of a better life.

Perhaps because of the strong Polish tie with Chicago, it's relatively easy to get there from ORD. And with a little help with the language, I hope to get a glimpse of farms in greater transition than mine, and how people are managing. It's always interesting to see what they think about Americans currently too.

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