Czech harvest best in 10 years

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Tonnes, European union, Agriculture

This year's Czech harvest has been hailed as the best since 1993,
producing almost nine million tonnes of crops, showing that the
farming industry has recovered well from a poor 2003 and the
disastrous floods of 2002 - just in time for the government's new
agriculture plan.

The total harvest is up by 54 per cent from last year, led by the success of main cereals, where production will be 3,111 tonnes higher than in 2003, and rapeseed, which has increased by 140 per cent, according to a recent survey by the Czech Statistical Office (CSO).

Potato yields are another success story, coming in 36 per cent higher than last year at 928,000 tonnes, although 600,000 tonnes of those are expected to be harvested late.

Industrial sugar beet appears to be the only crop casualty of the year, down by 217,000 tonnes compared to last year, although CSO crop statistician Pavel Zavazal said this was mainly because less had been planted. Grain is also reportedly suffering from a low protein content, reducing its quality slightly.

The 2004 harvest will be a welcome sign that Czech agriculture is recovering after floods in 2002 caused that year's harvest to be dubbed "the worst since the end of communism"​, and 2003 crop production remained well below average at 5.7 million tonnes.

Zavazal said that the recovery was very important because it "secures the home market with good quality home-made agricultural products and specific national food products which are favoured in our population".​ He added that a good harvest helped to secure the jobs of the country's large rural population.

The problem for the agricultural industry is now prices. It is reported that grain prices have already fallen due to a quick increase in supply, leaving farmers in danger of becoming victims of their own success.

But Zavazal believes that if farmers are clever they can still get a good bargain: "It is possible there will be a problem, but farmers are allowed to wait on further development of prices in the agricultural markets and to sell their produce when the prices of agricultural products will be higher."

In any case, the 2004 harvest gives the Czech government a solid start for its 10-year agricultural strategy, adopted in June this year, in which the government aims to further expand grain and oilseed production and envisages the growth of farms mainly as co-operatives or corporations.

Current Czech agricultural production remains lower than in the pre-1989 Soviet years, though supply still regularly exceeds demand on the home market. As a result, the government also wants to improve the ability of Czech farmers to compete in the lucrative EU markets by helping them to improve quality and safety standards.

According to Zavazal, Czech agriculture only plays a very small part in the EU market, but the government is hoping that exports will increase now the country is a full member.

However, other new EU members and applicant countries may provide stiff competition to the Czech Republic's plans. One rival is Bulgaria - currently on track to join the EU in 2007 - which is expecting high exports of all grains and oilseeds this year, and the country's wheat production is expected to double in 2004/05.

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