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The Warsaw Voice » Special Sections » December 21, 2012
Polska…tastes good!
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Opportunities for Organic Horticulture
December 21, 2012   
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Poland produces between 3 and 3.5 million metric tons of various types of fruit a year and ranks among the top producers in the moderate climate zone in terms of both production volume and exports. Apples top the statistics in Poland, at 2.5 million tons a year, followed by cherries and strawberries (each around 200,000 tons a year), black currants (150,000 tons), and raspberries (100,000 tons).

The amount of land used in Poland for integrated fruit production (IFP), a cultivation method that will be mandatory for all producers beginning Jan. 1, 2014, has been expanding steadily. Organic fruit and vegetable growing methods became popular over a decade ago. According to experts, organically produced fruit and vegetables should account for at least 6-8 percent of total horticultural production in Poland in the near future.

Consumers are increasingly appreciative of the beneficial effects of a diet rich in fruit and vegetables, especially those grown using organic and environmentally-friendly methods. Produce of this kind is gaining popularity in affluent countries such as Germany, Britain and Norway. Britain is one of the largest consumers of organic food, and organic fruit, vegetables and herbs accounted for up to 85 percent of all organic produce imported to Britain over the past decade.

Surveys show that 94 percent of consumers are motivated by health reasons when buying organic food. However, fruit and vegetables are the least available of all organic foods, according to respondents in Poland. This could change soon owing to major development opportunities that are opening before organic horticulture.

Agriculture in Poland has for generations been close to what is now known as organic agriculture. Polish farms are comparatively small and predominantly owned and run by families. Until recently many of these farms were completely self-sufficient in terms of agricultural inputs and relied on what are known as extensive farming methods. Extensive farming is the opposite of intensive farming and involves a limited use of fertilizers, pesticides and machinery. Chemical fertilizers and synthetic pesticides were introduced in Poland much later than in Western Europe and the United States. After World War II, food was in short supply in most parts of the world, which stimulated rapid intensification of agriculture in Western Europe, the United States and many other countries. Synthetic fertilizers and pesticides were used in large quantities to ensure high yields, but the result is that at present much of the soil in these countries is worn out and polluted. At the same time, Poland worked hard to recover from the ravages of war and kept expanding the amount of arable land. Extensive farming was in prevalence, which meant that fertilizers were mostly natural and produced locally at farms, while chemical pesticides were hardly ever used. As a result, soils and groundwater in Poland remained free from harmful chemicals for many more years. Since food at present is plentiful, many fields in Poland are lying vacant and could be used for organic cultivation. With soils and groundwater cleaner than in other countries, Poland has major assets favoring organic horticulture, especially because the past several decades have witnessed major progress in the agricultural sector.

High yields are possible even without chemical pesticides thanks to systematically introduced new plant varieties that are highly fecund and immune to even the most dangerous diseases and pests. Organic agriculture is also stimulated by grants offered to producers who switch to organic farming. The grants serve as partial compensation for abandoning synthetic fertilizers and chemical pesticides, which leads to somewhat poorer and smaller yields. Natural methods used to produce fruit and vegetables are sure to benefit consumer health and help protect the environment.

Organic horticultural production opens development opportunities especially before small farms which at present lose out to farms which produce goods in large quantities. The demand for organic fruit and vegetables is expected to grow as consumers are ready to pay more for such food than for conventionally grown fruit and vegetables. Consequently, organic horticulture will become profitable, prompting the sector to grow even further.

Organic horticulture in Poland has also been stimulated by government-supported research on organic production. The research began several years ago at selected research centers, including the Research Institute of Horticulture in Skierniewice, a city halfway between Warsaw and ŁódĽ. In 2004, the institute established Poland’s first Experimental Organic Orchard in Nowy Dwór-Parcela and an Organic Vegetable Field in Skierniewice. The two facilities have been conducting experiments to come up with comprehensive technology for organic production of fruit and vegetables. The experimental orchard was made possible by a grant from the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development and is classified as an organic farm. Researchers at the orchard are working to select the right plant species and varieties for organic cultivation and identify environmentally-friendly methods to be recommended to producers interested in keeping soil and plants free from diseases, pests and weeds.

Research conducted so far shows that organic horticulture hinges on cultivars which are immune or resistant to harmful environmental factors. For example, organic apple tree growing can be highly successful when orchard owners opt for varieties that give high yields and are immune or resistant to the apple scab, the most dangerous apple tree disease. Such criteria are met by a number of Polish cultivars, including Free Redstar, Melfree, Gold Millenium, Ligolina, Topaz, Rubinola, Szampion and Pinova.

Producers who decide to pursue organic methods in growing fruit need to constantly expand their knowledge and learn new skills. Further research and consulting services will help stimulate organic fruit production, increase the range of available kinds of fruit and improve their quality.

Elżbieta Rozpara, Ph.D.
Research Institute of Horticulture in Skierniewice

Integrated Production – Food Quality System Meeting Russian Standards

Polish food producers can take part in a voluntary food quality system referred to as Integrated Production (IP) under regulations that came into force in 2004. The system enables Polish food producers to export their produce to Russia.

Production under the IP system is subject to certification. An IP certificate attests that the agricultural produce to which it applies has been produced in compliance with detailed IP methods approved by the Chief Plant Protection and Seed Production Inspector and that the production process was supervised. This guarantees that the produce is safe for the consumer and in particular that it does not contain residues of crop protection chemicals, heavy metals, nitrates or other harmful elements and substances in quantities exceeding permissible levels.

The IP certificate proves that the producer complies with the IP production system. It is granted to producers who have successfully undergone inspections, submitted a correctly filled out application, have completed an IP training course, produce food and protect crops in line with detailed methodologies approved by the Chief Plant Protection and Seed Production Inspector, and have documented their IP track record in a correctly kept IP Notebook, with data entered on a regular basis.

The certificate is granted for 12 months. The producers who have received the official certification have the right to use the certificate and label their products with the IP logo.

At the same time, the IP system has been modified taking into account Russian crop safety requirements. So far plant protection programs complying with Russian food safety requirements have been developed for apple, pear, strawberry, sour and sweet cherry, celery cabbage and tomato plantations.
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