Slovakia has a population of 5.39 million (According to the World Factbook the July 2006 population estimate was 5,439,448 with a growth rate of 0.15%). It covers an area of 4.9 million hectares, its greatest distance from north to south being 208 km and from east to west, 416 km. Landlocked, it is situated in central Europe between latitudes 47° - 49° north and longitudes 15° – 21° degrees east. To the north lies Poland, in the east Ukraine, to the south, Hungary, to the west, Austria, and to the north-west its former partner, the Czech Republic, from which it split in 1993. The Danube forms part of the border with Hungary and Austria.
Half of Slovakia is under agricultural production (2.45 million hectares, of which 1.45 milion hectares or 60% is arable). Forests cover 40% of the total land area, mainly on hilly or mountainous regions.
Grassland is mainly located in the northern and north-eastern mountainous parts of the country. Permanent grassland totalled circa 831,000 ha in 1997 (about 39% of agricultural land) and in the same year 20% of the arable land (298,000 ha) was in green fodder production. This made a total of 1,129 million hectares in grass and forage crops, or approximately 46% of all agricultural land. Land use projections from 1995 to 2003 are summarised in Table 1.
Table 1 - Agricultural Land Use
Livestock numbers have declined since 1989 (the end of the communist era). There was a rapid drop until 1992 but the rate of decline has slowed since. By 1997 the dairy cow herd had declined to 66% of its pre-transitional level. By 1997 sheep numbers, as estimated by the ewe breeding flock, had dropped to 74% of the 1989 level. Goats were never numerous and have actually increased in number since the transition, but their contribution to the overall agricultural output remains minor. Table 2 below indicates the trends in recent years of livestock numbers and meat and milk production. In 2005 Slovakia also had 1,300,000 pigs and a production of 137,000 mt of pork, plus some 127,300 mt of poultry meat were produced. Slovakia also imported substantial quantities of pig and chicken meat in 2004.Source: EU DG VI report, 1998
Table 2 - Grazing livestock numbers and meat and milk production, 1996-2005
Source: FAO database 2006
Unlike most other eastern and central European countries, Slovakia has retained large, pre-transitional farming structures, but in a different form. As a result of privatisation, all collective and most state farms disappeared and were reformed into co-operatives and large private farms. Many of these subsequently reorganised into corporate farms, usually by splitting former very large co-operatives into smaller units. Household plot and individual private farmers have remained as marginal users of the land, with 9% of the total. Thus, despite a reduction in overall farm sizes, Slovak farms remain amongst the largest in Europe. The makeup of these farm structures in December 1998 is shown in Table 3.
Table 3. Farm Structures
Source: Green Report, November 1999; Statistical Yearbook of the Slovak Republic, 1998
This indicates the social changes that must take place in rural economies before labour efficiency can be achieved.
Market controls are in place for agricultural products in the form of
intervention buying and also as export subsidies to reduce domestic supplies
to demand levels. There are also import duties where domestic prices are
above world market levels. In the livestock sector export subsidies are
particularly important for cheese production and milk powder because they
are in surplus. There are also headage subsidy payments for beef, cattle
and sheep as a measure to discourage further grazing livestock reductions.
2 SOILS AND TOPOGRAPHY
There are three large lowland areas. To the west is the Little Afold (Podunajska or Danubian) plain stretching to the Danube. In the east lies the eastern Slovakian lowland, part of the inner Carpathian depression. Bordering the Czech Republic is the Zahorska plain (Zahorska nizina)
3. CLIMATE AND ECOLOGICAL ZONES
Table 4 - Milk projections
In 1997 dairy products were generally close to balance in terms of domestic use, with milk equivalent at 110%, butter at 104%, and cheese at 102%. Skim milk powder was over supplied with 147% self-sufficiency. The trend is for fewer cows producing better yields per cow per annum so that domestic supplies are maintained.Source: EU DG VI report (1995-2003); AgraFood East Europe, 2000
Official policy is to increase milk production to 220kg milk per capita, which is said to equate to a quota of 1200 million litres of milk (M. Zimcova, personal communication).
Prior to transition, Slovak dairy herds were kept in large houses, fitted with milk pipelines and chain and conveyor muck disposal systems. Each house would normally have 200 stalls, with 50 cows per milker. Forage feeding was from a central passageway. Milk was delivered by pipeline to refrigerated bulk tanks. The system was typical of many former communist bloc countries.
Since transition, there has been a big move to install parlours and loose housing. In many cases the old housing has been used as an umbrella building in which to install cubicles. At the same time feeding has become more mechanised and accurate, with the purchase of feeder/mixer wagons. Winter forage feeding is based on conservation into silage and hay from leys and permanent meadows. Italian ryegrass and red clover are popular. Lucerne and maize are commonly grown for silage, together with whole crop cereal silage. Vetches and peas are often sown with the cereals for added protein. Oats are the most popular cereal for silage.
Grazing is based partly on a paddock system but often cattle are grazed by day and fed indoors at night with conserved or freshly cut fodder. There is some limited integration of grazing with cutting. Dairy grazing is often on sown or overdrilled pastures and partly on permanent grassland. Young cattle and sheep graze these pastures after the dairy herd moves inside in the autumn
Most dairy cows are in large herds of 150 cows upwards. The traditional dairy breeds have been the dual-purpose Pinzgauer and Slovak Spotted (Simmental). More recently there has been a marked trend towards crossing with Holsteins/ Friesians using AI. Improvements in technology and feeding have also contributed to the upturn in the average milk yield since 1996, which was previously on a downward trend. Projections indicate an acceleration of this process.
Several herds now have average yields above 6,000l /cow/year so these optimistic projections are probably justified. Slovakian dairy production is beginning to make good technological progress. The large average herd size also provides economies of scale. These factors should enable the dairy sector to compete within the European Union after accession.
Beef production has shown a marked decline. Beef and dairy production are strongly interconnected, with most dairy cows being of dual-purpose type. Census figures do not differentiate between beef and dairy animals so it is difficult to establish the degree of decline in beef numbers. Domestic beef production has dropped from 127,000 tonnes in 1989 to 58,000 in 1997. At the same time domestic consumption has also declined from 69,000 to 54,000 tonnes. The result has been a drop in self-sufficiency from 174% in 1990 to 108% in 1997. Prior to transition exports were to communist countries. Most of these markets have now gone. New export markets have not been developed so production has returned to near self-sufficiency. The table below shows the trends; but does not reflect actual production after 1998 which was generally lower than predicted trends.
Table 5 - Beef supply balance
Beef production before transition was based on intensive feedlots, which were heavily subsidised. After 1989, price liberalisation created a fall in beef prices and input prices rose, so that beef production became relatively unprofitable (EU DG VI report,1998). Male calves from the dairy herd were mostly finished as beef. The dual-purpose nature of the dairy herd is now changing with the introduction of the Holstein. On more marginal upland farms, dual-purpose breeds still predominate because of their hardiness.Source: EU DG V1 report ,1998
On some farms, separate suckler herds are developing based on these dual- purpose breeds. The cows may be multiple suckled with up to four calves. The calves are grazed with the cows for six months before weaning and finishing, using maize silage in the autumn. They are often slaughtered at light weight (circa 300 kg live weight) in the autumn.
There is no tradition for steer beef based on calves from the dairy herd or for producing beef from grass. It is also unusual to use heifers for beef. There are now some pilot studies using autumn/winter born calves from the dairy herd. These are grazed for two seasons, usually with some cereal supplementation, and finished off at grass at the end of the second season (Hamnett and Sedliak,1999)
There are three main breeds, Tsigai and Valaska for milk production and the Merino for wool in the lowlands. Merino numbers are declining because of the poor wool market. Oxford, Isle de France, Suffolk and Lacombe have all been imported to improve meat quality. Sheep are kept primarily for milk production, with lambs slaughtered at light weights, so the meat breeds have not made an impact. There is interest in using the Friesland to improve milk yields and cross breeding programmes have started on some co-operative farms.
Typical flocks are between 300 – 500 ewes and are usually based on the co-operative farms, with one shepherd per hundred ewes, milking by hand. There is scope for introducing machine milking but so far this has not been considered economic. Mobile milking bails would be required with the present system because sheep are usually on outlying grazing.
The usual system is to lamb ewes in January/February. Lambs are kept with the ewes until turnout in late April, when they are weaned. Those not required for replacements are slaughtered for meat as lightweight lambs at 10 – 14 kg live weight. Milking starts once the lambs have been weaned and the ewes are at pasture, with ewes being hand milked three times a day and the milk converted to soft cheese (Bryndza) or smoked to produce yellow hard cheese. Both forms of cheese are popular, and Bryndza is used with pasta to produce the popular national dish Haluska. Milk yields are low, typically 70 – 100 l per ewe, because ewes are already past their peak yields by the time lambs are weaned and milking started.
The grassland management system generally uses semi natural grassland on which the flock is folded using hurdles. Hand milking three times a day plus moving hurdles daily results in a very labour intensive system. Also, the folding system often leads to damage of the grassland through poaching, as well as restricting grazing intakes (Krajcovic, 1999 personal communication). Winter feeding is based on meadow hay with concentrate supplementation.
Goat production is limited and the recent expansion in numbers is due to the increase in the number of household farms. As it is a Slovakian requirement that all goat milk for sale is pasteurised (even for cheese), only production for home consumption is likely.
This is satisfactory according to the EU DGVI report of 1998. There are approximately 270 cases of rabies each year, but there have been no cases of Foot and Mouth disease, and the cattle population is said to be free of Tuberculosis, Brucellosis and Enzootic Bovine Leucosis. Infectious Rhinotracheitis is under control. The conclusion is that significant progress has been made in the creation of a national legal base consistent with EU veterinary regulations, but the chain of command to ensure enforcement needs improvement.
Semi natural grassland types have been listed by Krajcovic (1999) His report covers the mountain and sub-mountain regions. He also provides details on natural production potential of grasslands for hay making, coupled with the anticipated feeding quality of the hay. Estimates of hay yield vary between 0.5t of conserved hay/ha/year at the poorest sites to 4 or even 7.5t at the best sites.
Krajcovic (1999) details many grassland associations on semi natural pastures.
At medium altitudes, the widespread associations are those with Agrostis tenuis, Poa pratensis, Festuca rubra and Festuca pratensis. Forbs and legumes are also widespread in the swards, especially Trifolium pratense and repens and Vicia spp. On warmer slopes Lotus corniculatus and Medicago falcata can be common.
At higher altitudes Nardus stricta can become dominant. Molinia caerulea, Nardus stricta and Deschampsia caespitosa are common species in association with Vaccinium spp. on extensive pastures. Deschampsia is said to be a particular problem.
On lower south facing slopes, Festuca rupicola and Bromus erectus become dominant. Lolium perenne only becomes a dominant species on fertile heavily stocked sites, usually at lower levels. All species of cultivated agricultural grasses are found in the lower areas. Legumes are also widespread in natural grasslands, with Trifolium incarnatum, T. pratense and T. repens common. Lotus corniculatus is widespread particularly at higher altitudes.
Under-utilisation of grassland has been a problem since well before the end of the communist era. It was associated with the trend away from the small family farm and the incorporation of land into large co-operatives. The co-operatives then had insufficient stock to utilise the land. It was normally the more marginal land that was abandoned and therefore exposed to natural shrub colonisation and reforestation. This trend has accelerated since 1989 as grazing stock numbers have continued to fall.
Grassland traditionally falls into three main categories:
Table 6 – Pasture/ Forage Varieties
Source: Dr Maria Zimkova, personal communication
6. OPPORTUNITIES FOR IMPROVEMENT OF PASTURE RESOURCES
For the foreseeable future much of the pasture resource will remain under-utilised, particularly in the marginal upland areas, due to the drop in livestock numbers. Improvement in the pasture resource is linked to an overall increase in stocking rates.
In the medium term Slovak agriculture with its large farms shows a good trend in adopting new technology particularly within the dairy sector, despite a poor economic climate. This, together with economies of scale and low labour costs, should make it competitive in world markets. Nevertheless it is predicted that there will be no recovery in dairy cow numbers because any increase in milk production is likely to come from yield increases per cow (EU DG VI Report, 1998). Yields are currently low so the trend of replacement with Holstein/Friesians and improved technological advances are likely to boost yields considerably. There are signs that current subsidies on beef and suckler cow production will start a limited recovery in beef markets.
It is unlikely that there will be any recovery in sheep numbers because the present system is too labour intensive. A halt in the decline can only be achieved if a market is developed for more mature lamb finished off grass. In practical terms these can only be produced from flocks that are not milked. There is interest in research circles in developing such flocks similar to those in the UK and New Zealand. This would also require a change in breed structure which is unlikely in the short term.
Overall, therefore, there seems little prospect for increased grazing livestock numbers in the near future. Better utilisation is only likely to come from a reduction in grassland area. The trend to abandonment of marginal upland grasslands together with natural reforestation seems set to continue. It is desirable that this takes place in a more planned manner than at present, not least from the environmental viewpoint.
There is considerable scope for improved utilisation of leys (sown grassland) for the dairy herd. It can be achieved by better control of grazing management and, fundamental to this, better integration of grazing with cutting. Paddock grazing systems are operated but are not well integrated with cutting to control grazing height for maximum digestibility and therefore dairy efficiency. Turnout to pasture tends to be too late and grazing/stocking rates are insufficient in early season to stop pasture from heading in late May, early June. There is also no established practice of topping heading pasture to return the sward to a vegetative state.
Ley pastures should also be improved by sowing with a more limited species/variety range. Current seed mixtures produce swards with a wide range of heading dates so that it is difficult to choose a cutting date at 50% ear emergence, for example. The use of aggressively growing cover crops (e.g. L. multiforum, T. pratense, cereal spp) to solve weed problems in newly sown swards is a different approach from western Europe where the emphasis is on topping/grazing and limited use of weedkillers to solve the inevitable early problems. Another difference is that autumn sowing is rarely used in Slovakia. By comparison spring sowing leads to considerable loss of yield in the first season and a bigger weed problem. There is a risk of moisture deficit leading to patchy germination. There are also risks from autumn sowing. Although weed problems are less, legumes need to be sown before the end of August to ensure sufficient seedling maturity to survive the winter, however, water deficits can be a problem in August. Survival of grass spp over the winter should not be a problem. Despite these points, autumn sowing has been successfully achieved in Lithuania and Poland (EU Lithuanian grassland management project and Dutch dairy management project, Turosyl, Poland) which suggest that similar techniques should be researched and perhaps adopted in Slovakia.
The more progressive co-operatives now recognise the advantages of L. multiflorum and L. perenne for producing high quality silage. The superior value of L. perenne as a grazing species, and its management is less well known. The L Perenne reputation for "winter kill" has already been mentioned which discourages its use. Research is urgently needed to see if different management practices, together with the use of more recent winter-hardy varieties, can alleviate this problem. There is good evidence from other countries that this can be achieved
The FAO project (TCP/RER/6711 – "Low Input Grassland Production Systems for Animal Feeding") has highlighted the need to resolve the current utilisation problems of permanent grassland and more marginal upland areas. Practical solutions recommended have been:
However, these measures can only alleviate the under-utilisation
problems, not solve them. A strategy is needed for alternative use of
some marginal areas combined with a possible subsidy system similar to
those available under CAP EU regulations. They would be designed to maintain
the viability of upland agriculture so that rural economies and landscapes
can be preserved. Headage payments are available but at a much lower level
than within the EU regime.
7 RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT ORGANIZATIONS AND PERSONNEL
AgraFood East Europe, February, 2000.
Agriculture Ministry, Slovak Republic, Green Report, Bratislava, November 1999.
EU DG VI Report, 1998 - Agricultural Situation and Prospects in the Central and Eastern European Countries – Slovakia – European Commission Report by the Agricultural Directorate (DG VI) June 1998.
FAO Database 2006 (website http://apps.fao.org/)
Hamnett, R. G. and Sedliak, V. 1999 "Low Input Steer Beef from Grass" - advisory booklet produced by the FAO project TCP/RER/6711A in Slovak and English
Krajcovic 1999. Final Report for FAO project ref. TCP/RER/6711(A) ‘Low Input Grassland Production Systems for Livestock Feeding’ December 1999. Report prepared by Prof Krajcovic.
Statistical Yearbook of the Slovak Republic, 1998.
Sûr, D. and Hamnett, R. G. 1999 "Grazing Systems for Low Inputs" – advisory booklet produced by the FAO project TCP/RER/6711A in Slovak and English.
Maria Zimková – personal communication – see Institute for Grassland and Mountain Agriculture for contact details.
(references not listed within text)
Agriculture (Polnohospodarstvo) 45, 1999, No 3.
Proceedings of conference entitled "Ecological and Biological Aspects of Forage Production, 1997" Available from Research Institute of Animal Production at Nitra. In Slovak with English summaries.
Recently published articles on forage production in Slovak journal "Plant Production" (Roslina Vyroba) 45,1999, no’s 2,5 and 7.
Volume of summaries "Grassland Ecology" 23-25 November 1999, 51pages
Grateful thanks are due to many of the staff at the Institute of Grassland
and Mountain Agriculture at Banská Bystrica for their generous
help in providing information for this profile. Particular thanks are
due to Maria Zimková at the Institute for her help in editing the
manuscript and to Dr John Frame for his valuable advice.
[Livestock data updated by S.G. Reynolds in October 2006].