Young Polish farmer: The reasons to move to the countryside

Monika Styczek with MEP Czesław Siekierski, Chair of the EP Agriculture Committee during the EURACTIV Poland debate on CAP. [New Media Project]

This article is part of our special report Young people and women in EU farming.

Small farms dominate the Polish agriculture. Their area gradually decreases, but data from the Central Statistical Office shows that the average Polish farmer has two to five hectares of land at his/her disposal. EURACTIV Poland reports.

Usually, the landowner is a man over the age of 45, as the number of young farmers is in a sharp decline. And although most of them are men, women are also represented. According to 2016 data, there were more than 30,000 women farmers aged between 25 and 34 in Poland.

EURACTIV.pl talked to one of them, Monika Styczek-Kuryluk, who runs her ecological farm together with her spouse in the village of Holeszów in the Lublin province.

You did not grow up in the countryside and you decided to start an agricultural activity only as an adult. Your husband was raised on a farm and you decided to run the farm with him. How do you assess this decision?

My decision to move to the countryside and run an organic farm was taken more emotionally than reasonably. Nevertheless, my intuition did not disappoint me. Today, after six years of working in the countryside and living off the land, I have no doubt that it was the right decision. My professional life is fulfilled, full of challenges and satisfaction. The hard work on the farm is for me a strong guideline for how I want to live my life and how I can give what is best for our customers – high-quality food with a unique taste.

What are the most important non-agricultural challenges in the countryside nowadays?

One has to find answers to three questions: how to stop the process of depopulating the countryside, how to preserve the agricultural landscape and the loss of biodiversity in agriculture.

How significant would it be to step up efforts to create new non-agricultural occupational and infrastructural opportunities in rural areas?

I believe that such actions should be balanced in an appropriate manner so that they do not pull farmers away from farming. The non-agricultural activity in rural areas should not disturb the character of the village.

How do you see the impact of the current EU Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) on the situation of farmers in Poland?

The CAP has its advantages and disadvantages. The advantages include: the opening of borders for the movement of goods and services within the EU, raising the standard of living of farmers, providing subsidies to farmers, creating a compensation system for natural disasters, introducing the obligation to label food, which has some impact on food quality, improving the quality of plant production in organic farming and, finally, raising the standard of living for farmers.

But there are disadvantages, as well. And these are: an oversized bureaucracy, no area restrictions for relevant subsidies, lack of practical facilities for the so-called farm processing (i.e. at farm level), sanitary rules unfavourable for processing at farm level, lack of practical protection of the common market against the inflow of cheap goods from third countries (mostly from Ukraine or China), artificial regulation of production, subsidies-per-hectare system of subsidies (which insufficiently supports organic farms), progressive concentration of land, differentiation of subsidy rates in different countries, a clear decline in biodiversity level in agriculture, subsidizing industrial animal husbandry or a scant support for organic farming.

What would you expect from the new CAP?

Above all, I expect subsidies to be awarded depending on the environmental impact, and determination of maximum surface when subsidising farms.

In addition, more effective protection of European farmers against the inflow of cheap goods from outside of the EU is needed, as well as the introduction of public procurement for local organic food, bonuses for farms with sustainable crop and animal production and so-called farm processing.

Last but not least, support for direct product sales, bonuses for farms actively participating in the education system of organic farming and promoting organic food in schools would all be crucial.

Should young farmers have a special treatment in the new CAP?

I believe that young farmers should have greater preferences in the purchase or lease of land. An efficient consultancy system (legal, accounting, marketing, etc.) based on trained practitioners should also be implemented.

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