Farmers in Poland are quickly adopting the latest technologies for crop and livestock production. They are searching for new markets all over the globe, and they are pushing to become some of the most efficient producers in the European Union (EU).

That progress caught the attention of Iowa Farm Bureau members, who toured parts of Poland last week as participants on the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation (IFBF) 2017 market study tour.

"I’ve been very impressed by what we’ve seen here," said Sharyl Bruning, president of the Monona County Farm Bureau, who was one of 25 IFBF members and staff who traveled to Poland for 10 days ending July 5. "I’m not sure what I expected, but the technology they use has really impressed me."

Mark Bentley, an East Pot­tawattamie Farm Bureau member, agreed that the progress of Poland’s ag sector was surprising. "I’ve been to Ukraine and I thought it would look more like that. But it looks more like Western Europe than I expected," he said.

Poland’s progress in ag has been steady since the fall of communism in 1989 and geared up since the country joined the EU in 2004, said Radoskaw Stasiuk, general manager of ADM’s grain facility in Gdynia, Poland’s major port on the Baltic Seas.

"Agriculture is really running like a business in Poland now, and that wasn’t the case a decade ago," Stasiuk said.

Modern farming methods

The ag technology level ap­­pears to be high, said Justin Vermeer, a Howard County Farm Bureau member. "I was under the impression that it would be more old fashioned, but it is very modern."

David Rydberg, a Page County Farm Bureau member, noted that there were big fields and modern equipment in the areas of Poland that the IFBF group viewed. "It’s not the small plots that I had expected," he said.

The push to adopt technology makes Poland both a potential competitor and customer for farmers in Iowa and around the United States, said Dave Miller, IFBF director of research and commodity services, who led the market study trip.

"We are competing with Pol­and to some degree in various areas such as poultry, feed grains and protein feeds, Miller said. "But there’s a chance that the United States could supply more of the soybean meal for Poland’s expanding poultry sector."

Rusty Olson, Hancock County Farm Bureau president, said his impression is that Poland’s farmers are positioning themselves as players in a changing global export market.

"I’m really impressed with the ability to adapt to changes in their markets," he said. Olson noted that Poland was forced to find new exports after the EU embargoed exports to Russia beginning in 2014. This especially affected their poultry meat and apple exports for which they are the EU’s largest exporter and Russia was a major market.

A potential customer

On the import side, Poland’s growing demand for corn and soybean meal bears watching, said Laura Foell, a Sac County Farm Bureau member.

"I think we really need to pay attention to this market," said Foell, who has served on national soybean boards. "They have the technology to build their livestock sector, and we need to be one of their main suppliers."

The Iowans said they were also impressed with the crop production methods in Poland, the care of livestock, the sophistication of farm machinery and the innovative spirit of Polish farmers.

The visitors were also im­­pressed with the quality of the roads and other infrastructure in the central European country and how quickly Polish agriculture has thrown off the shackles of communism and adopted the innovative spirit that drives American agriculture.

Olson said he was impressed with how clean their fields look. "It looks like they take a lot of pride in that," he said.

Like other countries in the EU, farmers in Poland are prohibited from growing biotech crops and using herbicide tolerance systems to control weeds. However, Olson noted that farmers in Poland appear to compensate by doing more herbicide applications through the growing season than their American counterparts.

Jefferson County Farm Bur­eau member Zoe Moritz was impressed by the livestock care on the Polish beef and dairy farms they visited.

"They use a lot of the same techniques we use, like pasture rotation, and I’m impressed with the genetics," she said. "It really looks like they are taking care of their animals and the environment, like we do."

Forgetting communism

The Iowans were also surprised that the effects of decades of communist rule were almost invisible in today’s agriculture in Poland.

"It’s pretty amazing how they recovered from communism," said Dave Bruning of Monona County. "It’s like they are so far past that time, they don’t even want to discuss it."

Unlike farms in many other countries behind the Iron Curtain, the majority of Poland’s family farms were not broken up and turned into collectives, said ADM’s Stasiuk. "Every other part of the Polish economy was collectivized, but more than 80 percent of farmers kept their land, and that helped them after the transition."

IFBF’s Miller said membership in the EU has been a big driver of Poland’s effort to modernize its agriculture. The EU offers Polish farmers substantial subsidies and has opened up access to the whole EU market as well as to countries in the other parts of the world.

"Although Polish farmers have to deal with more regulations now as part of the EU, membership has been a big plus for Polish agriculture," Miller said.