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Polska... tastes good!
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Drought and Drumming Up Business
By Marek Sawicki, PhD, Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development

Our worries over climate change have been confirmed. We are dealing with drought virtually throughout the country. Preliminary evaluations show that up to 1 million hectares of arable land could be affected. The worst situation is in Mazowieckie, Wielkopolskie, Kujawsko-Pomorskie, Łódzkie and Podlaskie provinces. Spring crops have suffered the most, winter crops are doing slightly better. The water level in rivers is falling considerably. Given the situation in Poland, but also in other regions of Europe, it appears that price rises are inevitable, especially in the case of vegetables. We will be able to be more specific about the extent of the losses after special commissions appointed by provincial governors complete their work. I have appealed for this work to be speeded up so that assistance programs for farmers who have suffered the greatest losses can be launched as soon as possible.

The situation now may make more people aware that agriculture is not the same kind of business as other sectors of the economy. Many envy farmers their direct payments and support under the Rural Development Program. But a combination of adverse weather conditions is enough to damage all the work of a farmer, however diligent.

At the moment, drought is our biggest problem. However, it has not stopped us from continuing our preparations to implement further measures as part of the Rural Development Program for 2014-2020. We are also continuing to press ahead with training programs for farmers. Training sessions are being held at the ministry building all the time. There are also ongoing meetings with representatives from unions and agricultural organizations as well as those representing producers of soft fruit, especially black currants. Together we are working on solutions that could help them.

Meanwhile, elections to agricultural self-regulation organizations have ended. The lower house of parliament, the Sejm, has passed new regulations under which the process of selling farmland will become more farmer-friendly. We followed French and German models in this area. So there is no worry that the new rules might turn out to be incompatible with EU regulations. Knowing how important these regulations are I appealed to President Andrzej Duda to sign them into law as soon as possible.

August marks a year since Russia introduced an embargo on our agricultural products. From this perspective, it can be seen that our producers and exporters have coped well in these very difficult conditions. We must remember that we are not the only ones to have been affected by the sanctions and that many of the products that were previously shipped to the Russian market have appeared on the EU market instead.

The difficult conditions governing access to EU support for fruit and vegetable producers also turned out to be a barrier that could be overcome. My painstaking efforts finally resulted in a decision by the European Commission to help Polish fruit and vegetable producers. Although, in my opinion, that decision should have been made much earlier, the most important thing is that it was made at all.

The fact that the Russian embargo has been coped with is also due to earlier efforts to gain access to new markets. Many criticized me for my trips and talks in countries in the Far and Middle East, claiming that I was traveling there as a tourist. I wonder what would have happened a year ago and what the situation would be like today if I had refrained from those efforts back then?

Thanks to efforts that I undertook as early as 2008 and due to arduous negotiations conducted by the veterinary and phytosanitary services I supervise, we now have a presence on more than 75 markets outside the European Union. We continue to press ahead with these activities.

One recent example is my July visit to the United States. On the first day of the trip, I talked with U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack. I said that, taking into account the potential of Polish agriculture, an especially important issue in Polish-American agricultural cooperation was access to the U.S. market for Polish produce, especially as American consumers deserve to have access to good Polish food. Even though Poland is a significant producer of many food products internationally, it cannot compete with local producers, given the scale of production in the American food sector. However, Polish food could be an excellent complement to what is offered to American consumers. Therefore, I appealed for the earliest possible conclusion of talks on enabling Polish poultry meat and products as well as apples and pears to access the U.S. market. I also said that we are interested in securing access to the U.S. market for Polish eggs and egg products as well as beef and tobacco.