Czechs seek to turnaround farm sector fortunes

Tomatoes from the Netherlands, garlic from China, lettuce from Spain, and apples from Italy. These are all examples of what is wrong in the Czech agricultural sector according to the government and many farmers’ leaders. A strategy aimed at boosting domestic production and exports has been put together by the Ministry of Agriculture amid doubts whether some of the ambitious goals can be achieved.

Photo: Kristýna MakováPhoto: Kristýna Maková The Czech agricultural sector is small and shrinking. From 3.0 percent of national wealth creation in 2004, the year of entry into the EU, the sector accounted for 2.6 percent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) from 2012-2014.

And while farming’s significance in the overall economy might be declining, it still has a wider role far outstripping its earnings and head count of workers. Just over half of the Czech Republic is used for farming, fisheries, and commercial forestry, farming is one of the major factors keeping jobs and people in the countryside, and local food production is an environmental and strategic plus.

Czech agriculture as a whole defies broad generalisations. The ministry estimates that around a third of the sector is outperforming its EU peers while a third are underperforming. Warning signals on the horizon are rising wages in a traditionally low pay environment, the stronger Czech crown, an absence of young farmers in some sectors, and the increased danger of drought.

And since 2004, Czechs farms have struggled to get their products into local shopping trolleys and onto Czech plates. Farmers are now covering just 60 percent of Czech pork consumption, 80 percent of poultry demand, and 90 percent of egg purchases. On the other hand, around a third of milk and a quarter of beef production can be exported after fully meeting national demand.

Minister of Agriculture, Marian Jurečka, says he wants the shortfall in local production and sales to be addressed and exports boosted.

Marian Jurečka, photo: Filip JandourekMarian Jurečka, photo: Filip Jandourek ʺI would like some of these trends to change and where possible, where we have quality products and a suitable climate, to meet local needs 100 percent. And I’d like us to make full use of our export potential."

In fact, a long term ministry strategy would like to see the Czech agricultural sector balance the books by 2030 in terms of imports and exports. One problem that has been highlighted though is that local food processing companies are often small or non-existent. Czech raw products often exported abroad for manufacturing and processing and coming back again for final consumption with a lot of value added abroad.

And the recently installed new head of the Czech Agricultural Chamber, Zdeněk Jandejsek, says there is another problem in the form of higher farm support in other EU countries, especially neighbouring Poland.

"There are national subsidies which are several fold higher in other EU countries, especially Poland. For a long time now the businesses in Poland simply do not pay health, social and similar charges.ʺ

Czechs have raised the issue in the Visegrad regional meetings with Poland but so far without any breakthrough.