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.

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.

There are, for example, 150 people in the office administration. "Could do with half that number," snorts director Jan Jerzyniak, who drove me round the farm in a Russian Landrover. He comes from a long line of farmers.

Why not cut down then? I asked. "Because," said Mr. Jerzyniak with disgust, "there are people who think paper work more important than raising more beef and milk!"

Western farm experts who come here praise the men running the state farms. "Those I've met are dedicated men who know their job," says Jerry Kuhl, agricultural officer at the US Embassy in Warsaw.

The problems arise from their not getting the things they need to do their jobs. Excessive centralization and the failure to make the best disposition and use of investment are responsible for most shortcomings in organization on the big farms themselves.

Size itself is not the problem. In Nebraska, says Mr. Kuhl, who has been observing agriculture in many parts of the world for 30 years, a man and woman and a boy of 15 can look after 2,500 acres because "the tractor runs and if it breaks down, the necessary spares can be got at once."

One sees many tractors and other machines idle in the yard around Poland because spare parts are not available when and where they are needed.

This year's industrial unrest could conceivably change this and restore agriculture to its own, through bigger investments overall and especially the preferences pledged to the private sector in opportunity to purchase land and in much bigger allocations of fertilizer and coal.

Until the start of the 1970s, the country was a net exporter of food. Last year it had to spent $1.2 billion on 8.6 million tons of fodder and grain and still could produce enough animals to satisfy home markets.

Food shortages have been at the heart of all Poland's crises since World War II -- 1956, 1970, 1976, and again this summer. The new party leadership has given top priority to ensuring the everyday needs of people in food and other essentials.

The news media have begun to criticize in a way unthinkable a short while ago. Last year -- according to Zycie Warszawy -- every hectare owned by the state farms showed a loss. They plowed 25 percent of the land but absorbed 64 percent of all investment.

"Would it not be better," the paper asked, "to use this money for credits to all individual farmers anxious to do the best with their land and thus speed up enlargement of effective farms producing their own fodder and raising animal breeding accordingly?"

The paper said that in the last decade, the "socialized" sector acquired more than 3 million acres of land from the State Land Fund, while individual farmers got virtually nothing. It was said that "nobody wanted more."

"This is a fairy tale," the paper added. "It was also a deformation of agricultural policy. What can a state farm do effectively with 150 or more little lots scrattered over a wide area?"

"Deformation" of policy and good sense in almost every area, not just in economics, is under sharp scrutiny in Poland now. Economists are agreed that correction applied first and foremost to agriculture will do most to help extricate the country from its worst crisis of the postwar years.

of stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Unlimited digital access $11/month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.