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Slovakia: Strong Growth in Organic Farm Numbers and Good Potential for Processing

In the most recent edition of the Avalon Ekoconnect newsletter on organic farming in Central and Eastern Europe, a report on organic farming in Slovakia was published.

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Organic farming in Slovakia is still heavily export-oriented. Many farms that converted to organic farming in the 1990s had over 600 hectares and most of them were arable farms. Recently the number of organic farms grew explosively, with smaller farms emerging in the mountains.

Although the lack of domestic processing opportunities is still a bottleneck in Slovakia’s organic sector development, an increasing amount of processing is being done inside the country. The development of organic farming in Slovakia began in 1991 with a group of 37 large farms converting simultaneously. The next major expansion came in the late 1990s with an increase to 50'000 hectares in 1998 managed by 80 companies.

After the accession to the European Union, organic area increased within a few years to 144'219 hectares in 2009, which is 7.5 percent of the agricultural land and 3.4 percent of arable land (Naturalis, 2009). The number of organic farms in Slovakia (463) has grown exponentially since 2004. New organic farms emerged mainly in the mountainous Eastern half of Slovakia. Many of these farms keep livestock with the number of organic cows increasing by 50 percent annually between 2003 and 2008. Today, 68 percent of organic farms keep organically certified livestock. While the average farm size in the mid-1990s was over 600 hectares, it decreased to 315 h hectares (with 100 ha of arable land) by 2009.

The largest organic farms have several thousand hectares each, producing mainly wheat, maize, barley (also malt barley), and sunflower. In horticulture, medicinal herbs play a role (e.g. lemon balm, camomile, and mint) as well as asparagus and other vegetables, which are cultivated for baby food.

From its inception, organic farming in Slovakia has been mainly export-oriented. Grains, pulses, and medicinal herbs were exported unprocessed to the EU countries and Switzerland. Export is still an important engine for organic sector development. Slovakia is popular with organic processors in Europe as it produces large, homogeneous quantities due to the dominance of large farms. With only one authorised inspection body (Naturalis), the organic control and certification system is transparent.

Short distances to the main organic markets in Europe are another advantage of the country. The organic sector in Slovakia has great potential to develop further. While domestic demand for organic food is on the rise, organic milk is currently bottled abroad and imported back into the country. Slovak organic processors already produce various pastas and dairy products, and family-run dairy processing on mountain farms for an exigent domestic market sector is expected to mature.

Source: Bianca Lieske and Christoph Arndt, both EkoConnect e.V. (2010): Slovakia: Explosive growth in organic farm numbers and good potential for processing. In: Information Letter for Organic Agriculture of Central and Eastern Europe. No 26, July 2010

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