As Turkey continues its bid for EU membership, Gaina Morgan visits Turkey’s Aegean Coast to find out what its growing agricultural industry has to offer.
A country on the cusp, Turkey is ambitious as it adjusts to a rapidly changing world.
And agriculture, its third biggest industry, employing more than a quarter of the working population, is tooling up to meet the challenges.
New motorways and developments are springing up in and around the third city of Izmir on the Aegean Coast, with food companies, co-operatives and a state-of-the-art farm machinery plant.
Turkey claims to have been the birthplace of farming 10,000 years ago and aims to increase agricultural exports by 250 per cent, from the current $15 million (£11m) to $40bn (£30bn) by 2024, with a 140 per cent increase of gross national product to $150m (£113m).
The country is well placed, linking Europe with Asia and enjoying the benefits of a mild climate and fertile soils, especially in the west, with farmers said to be ‘not rich but not poor’.
Turkey is self-sufficient, with 15m cattle, 34m sheep and 11m goats, and exports cereals, nuts, fresh and dried fruits, vegetables, olive oil, meat and dairy products.
EU membership is controversial and clearly there are more than political hurdles to overcome.
Milk production has increased to an annual 18.5m tonnes, but the Government is having to financially support measures to achieve EU quality standards.
Pioneering artificial insemination importer and veterinary company director Dr Nuran Yavuz of Ata Fen appreciates the benefits of joining the EU, but her experience licensing imports of semen, pharmaceuticals and vaccines makes her wary.
Turkish bureaucracy is, she feels, the most complicated, most difficult process in the world.
The Aegean Exporters Association represents more than 7,500 export companies from 12 different industries, exporting to 200 different countries.
It has been in operation for 65 years and employs 90 people, serving a variety of sectors including forestry, livestock, cereals, dried fruits and olives.
One of Izmir’s 30 counties, Seferihisar, is Turkey’s first slow food area and the local authority actively encourages farmers to stay on land, rather than selling for development.
This includes adding value to farm production, agri-tourism and supporting producers’ markets.
The county co-operative comprises 7,000 producers and 250,000 goats.
The biggest trade partner for agricultural produce is the EU and membership would clearly hugely benefit some sectors, especially fresh and dried fruit and vegetables.
Meanwhile, the quality and range of Turkey’s produce means its produce is in demand worldwide. There are difficulties with Russia, but markets in the Middle East, China, the United States and across the world will only benefit from increasing standards and sophistication.
She said: “Our officials use EU regulations to put us in line. I am not against this, it is very good we are updating our current regulations, but they put a condition which says ‘in addition to this, we have the authority to ask for any other documents we may like’.”
The company is working to improve breeding stock by using imported semen and managing disease, including brucellosis, TB and foot-and-mouth.
Providing an insight into the challenges and dynamics of the country, Dr Yavuz said traditional farmers needed ‘a management injection’, while commercial investors had no understanding of the animal husbandry issues which can make a nonsense of projected balance sheets.
And it is a country of contrasts, with 20 partially Government incentivised 1,000-cow dairy herds, alongside herds of fewer than five cows.
The latter is pool milk for collection from communal village cooling tanks, although quality testing is individual, and payment at the top end is 40 cents/litre.
Similarly, the produce of the country’s 180m olive trees is managed and harvested by some with just one hectare (2.5 acres) and others using world-class sophisticated plants.
The fact that 500,000 Turkish families are involved in the industry gives some indication of the small scale of some operations.
The 80 per cent exported is subject to a significant tariff in the EU.
Current world tensions are evident, having caused a spike in the country’s steady economic growth.
The Aegean Exporters Association last year sustained a 10 per cent fall in agricultural exports, following a fourfold increase in four years.
The national Government and local authorities are focused on modernising the industry, without losing its unique identity.
Marketing, innovation, research and development and increased investment are to a degree supported by national and/or local government and the Turkey Agri Machinery Plant said it could sell twice the number of tractors produced, albeit a basic model, with no demand for GPS systems.
The company has been producing high quality farm machinery, made from Turkish steel, since 1959, and is internationally recognised with a €20m (£16m) turnover.
The UK and Ireland are big export markets and, with no tariffs, EU membership is not an issue.
Co-operation is deeply embedded in the Turkish psyche. Taris, the Izmir-based co-operatives for Turkey’s flagship crop, sultana raisins, and olives, are among four Izmir-based co-operative unions, each derived from the original organisation set up in 1910 to protect fig, raisin, cotton and olive oil producers.
The four comprise 16 associated co-operatives and 100,000 partners in seven Aegean provinces.
Prices for sultana raisins and cotton are set in a sophisticated live daily routine at the Izmir Commodity Exchange (ICE), founded in 1891, to bring benefits to consumers, producers, exporters and the economy.
Samples are checked and compared before bargaining between agents and brokers begins in short, sharp sessions in ‘trading pits’.
Closing figures determine the price for the day then flash up on huge computer screens in halls set up for the purpose in 1928.
A successful innovation is an E-Commodity Bazaar, selling a huge range of products from cereals, vegetable oils and livestock to fertiliser. Transactions have increased almost 10-fold from 1,051m Turkish lira (£262,100) in 2000 to 9,353m lira (£2.3m) last year.
The portal has been developed to improve marketing and encourage exports, with training provided in 10 rural pilot villages.
ICE also has a wider role, in preparing harvest estimates, market information and promotion, and has worked with the National Cotton Council of Turkey to provide a genetically modified organism-free label.
It has also established a tasting panel for olives and olive oil and has set up a model village showcasing organic farming and good organic practices, co-financed by the Izmir Development Agency.