With small family farms facing an uncertain future, Lauren Dean takes a look at what family farmers are doing in Croatia to keep their heads above water.
UK farms with 50 hectares or less could be out of business by the middle of the century due to a combination of being uneconomic, inefficient and irrelevant for overall food production, according to a Campaign to Protect Rural England report.
But the small farm sector in Croatia, which makes up 95 per cent of the country’s farms, is much more stable.
Of its 157,000 enterprises, 85 per cent are operating on less than 10 hectares, while almost 50 per cent work with less than €4,000 (£3,610) per year.
The average farm runs about five to six livestock units.
For one small dairy farm in Kusanovec, Dugo Selo, about 19 miles east of the country’s capital of Zagreb, money from the state has played a vital part in helping the operation tick.
Although sisters Romina Zadravec and Melita Jadanec-Cutura are still reliant on income from outside work while their husbands work on-farm, it is their commitment to the industry which encouraged them to set up a farm shop which sells direct from the farmgate.
The 30ha farm is home to 26 Simmentals, 15 of which are dairy cows, and the business runs by fund matching a €14,000 (£12,645) grant from Zagreb county.
When asked if the family was in a good business, owner Mrs Zadravec, who is also president of Sir Cro, the Croatian Alliance of Small Cheesemakers, said: “We do not have any profit. When we make money we feed it back into our business.
“We would not be where we are if it was not for the support – it equates to €14,000 from Zagreb county and €14,000 from us.”
Agricultural Minister Tugomir Majdak said the Ministry of Agriculture encouraged producers to differentiate themselves, suggesting small family farms were about ‘survival of the fittest’.
It was this healthy competition which kept the small farming industry booming, making it an attractive sector for the next generation.
Of the 48 people living in the local village, 12 live and work for the dairy farm. It is a family affair and has been for decades.
Mrs Zadravec said: “Many generations farmed here before us. My grandfather, my parents, and now us.”
With such a small number of cows, Mrs Zadravec said the family ‘could not live’ if they only produced milk.
“Because of that we are producing cheeses and we make a profit from this,” she added.
“We also produce other dairy products, including yoghurt, sour cream and semi-hard and hard cheeses.”
For family farms in Croatia, financial input from the state is what has helped keep their businesses afloat.
While there have been arguments the Government has failed to support small producers in exporting, rural areas in Croatia are characterised by plots of land which are not large enough for competitive production.
Mrs Zadravec’s husband Zeljko said: “You are practically on your own.
“The Government does not support the local production and its cost because the expense of production and standards is very high, and the small producers do not have enough margin to survive.”
But MP Marijana Petir said she was using her Government role to support small farmers, because ‘it was really important to protect their production and their families’.
January 2018 saw the implementation of a specific law for small family farms, protecting them against enforcement action and helping professionalise their operation, enabling them to develop their capacity and services and facilitate their access to EU funds.
Ms Petir said: “They are important not only because of production of food, but because of environmental protection, because of the protection of biological diversity and cultivation of the whole area.
“If somebody lives and farms here they will take care of all of the environment.
“The Common Agricultural Policy should have this in its focus. It should help them not only survive but be more efficient and spread this interest for agriculture to young generations.
“We need them and we need to invest in them.”