Foreign farmers reap rewards in Slovakia

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In recent years Slovakia has become attractive for foreign farmers. Already 6 Danish agriculture companies have moved in since Slovkakia joined the EU, along with 4 Dutch ones. Slovak farmers have not always been happy with their presence in Slovakia.

Kim Stockholm's farm, located just North of Bratislava, has 2,000 cows producing produce 50 tonnes of milk daily. The entire quantity is sold to the largest Slovak dairy. Mr Stockholm is Danish and came to Slovakia in 2005 when his mother company decided to invest here. Why Slovakia?

"We have found Slovakia an interesting country because being a member of the EU the economic and political situation is very stable. There is a large amount of consumers around Slovakia. With the increasing growth in this whole region we felt that it was an ideal place to start investing. Furthermore in Slovakia there are possibilities to buy big agricultural companies."

Some locals are surprised to see the big Danish flag in front of the farm. Those who are farmers are in fact not always pleased to see it. Stanislav Nemec the Spokesperson of the Slovak Agriculture Chamber explains why.

"What sometimes bothers our farmers is the fact that the Danes and the Dutch come here with significant capital to invest. We heard that in Denmark the government encourages farmers to liquidate pig farms because they cause a lot of pollution. It compensates these farmers with nice sums of money which they use to open farms in Slovakia afterwards. They also come here with the strong financial backing of banks and our farmers, especially the smaller ones, feel a bit disadvantaged."

České zemědělství je permanentně k pláči...?
The Slovak Agriculture Chamber is in favour of introducing protectionist measures in favour of local farmers. In fact such measures are already in place. Foreigners cannot buy agricultural land in Slovakia until 2011. They can, however, rent it. Big foreign farmers have already solved this problem- they buy Slovak companies or find a Slovak partner in a joint venture. Kim Stockholm does not think that local farmers are strong competition for his company.

"We obviously have to compete within the country but because there is a big re-construction going on in Slovak agriculture, I think that there is room for everybody here. We have to remember that in Slovakia we have to be competitive with the rest of the EU. We here in Slovakia must be able to compete with efficient farmers from Holland, Germany, Denmark where it has been a very long tradition for efficient farming."

Foreign owned farms do have access to state subsidies from the Slovak budget as well as from the European Union. The only condition is to use them for projects done in Slovakia. Stanislav Nemec does not think that foreigners can prepare better projects than Slovaks. All in all the Ministry of Agriculture considers the presence of foreign farmers in Slovakia beneficial. Its spokesperson Magdalena Fajtova explains why.

"They bring valuable know how and help Slovak agriculture move forward and modernize. We find their competition healthy."

In other words, Slovak farmers should watch and learn, and maybe one day they will be able to expand their business to other countries too, is the message from the government. Ukraine is calling.