Poland decides to plow more money into the rich soil of private farms
In the village of Slonin not far from here Josef Wojciak and his son have one of the private, specialist farms that characterize agriculture in this western region.Skip to next paragraph
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Many of the bigger private farms -- which may run up to 15 hectares (nearly 40 acres) -- are located here. Of the 3 million private holdings throughout Poland, some 30 percent of them are less than 2 hectares. But few of those patches are in this area.
Mr Wojciak, who is in his 63s, officially draws the pension private farmers are entitled to, but he still works.His son, another Josef, is 25. Between them -- with a helping hand from Mrs. Josef Jr. -- they farm 40 acres that had belonged to grandfather and great-grandfather before them.
Their specialty is milk. They keep 28 cows and have some pigs as well. The 25 milkers are housed in an old but weel-kept shed. The dairy, too, is a primitive structure, but it looks as scrupulously clean as care and attention can make it.
A few miles away, at the vast 20,000 acre state farm "kombinat" at Czempin, I spoke to another young dairyfarmer. He was reluctant to give his name but talked of his job with pride.
The farm has 9,000 cattle all told -- nearly one-third for milk -- and this young man had some 500 to tend. The milking machinery was newer than the Wojciak', and for him and his helpers there was a nice restroom and s shower and changing room.
He was clearly a contented young man. "There's no other life for me," he said. He is one of a generation that seems to be coming back into Polish agriculture after a period in which the young were fleeing the farm for the city.
More may return to the land if the government honors its recent pledge that private farmers will get a fairer deal, including the right to buy more land on equal terms with these bit kombinats.
For years private farmers have spoken bitterly about the doctrinaire way in which local officials and the state farms have stood in their way. It is also one of the reasons for agriculture's persistent decline.
Peasants complain that state farms have been allowed -- or pressured by party officials -- into taking over idle strips merely to restrict private ownership.
These two young cowmen and their jobs reflect the characteristics and the problems pf Polish farming.
In terms of cash, the state farm employee, whose wage of some 5,000 zlotys (about $170) a month is three times the national average, is probably better off at the end of the year.
The Wojciaks were reluctant to quote figures but conceded they come out even most years. They had a color television in the sitting room and said some old buildings across the yard would be demolished to build a new house next year.
They work longer hours for what they have, even though the specialist private farmers have had more consideration than the ones who need small machinery (of which supplies are woefully inadequate) as well as mineral fertilizers and other supplies.
Private owners cultivate some 75 percent of Poland's arable land. In the past they have gotten less than 40 percent of the general inputs, and a much smaller percentage of the fertilizer. Even so their yields have been superior.
Now the government is promising that more funds will be diverted to private farms and that prices paid for their produce will be raised.
The Czempin state farm sprawls across an area 30 miles in diameter. It embraces 60 villages and some 20,000 people. Besides the cattle, it has 6,500 pigs, 11,000 sheep, 8,000 acres in grain -- and the over-employment endemic to "socialized" farming all over Eastern Europe.