The topography is plains, hills and plateaux, some surrounded by low mountains. Climate is temperate, with cool summers and cold, cloudy, humid winters, with variations from mostly maritime to mostly continental.
Arable land and permanent crops cover 3.3 million ha; permanent pastures are on 0.9 million ha, and forests cover 2.6 million ha. Major crops include winter wheat, winter barley, spring barley, potatoes, rapeseed, sugar beet, maize, hops and fruit.
Economic reform in the Czech Republic continues, and the country is a member of OECD. In 1998, there were changes to economic priorities that have had a positive influence on agriculture. After some fluctuations, gross agricultural production is increasing. The state Market Regulation Fund in Agriculture increased notably and has influenced the regulation of the market for major products such as cereals and milk.
The Czech Republic has applied for membership of the EU and significant progress has been made in the harmonization of policies and legislation with those of the EU. Special units in the Ministry of Agriculture are studying the Common Agriculture Policy (CAP) modes. It is expected that the Czech Republic will be one of the first four countries to join EU.
The Velvet Revolution brought with it agricultural transformation, conserving all previous investments due to the priority given to the change of ownership. The image of the Czech Republic as one of the most stable and prosperous of post-Communist state was damaged somewhat during 1997 crisis, but the main problems are attributed too much direct and indirect government interference in the private sector.
In 1989, land and other properties began to be transferred so that as much as possible of properties passed into private hands through restitution, transformation of the cooperative property and privatization. Most agricultural land is used by large-scale farms and newly established agricultural enterprises; the average size of farms is 24 ha. The average size of the private companies is about 140 ha, and farms below 10 ha occupy less than 2.5% of farming land.
Private agriculture enterprises operate about 99% of the farming land acreage. Of those, 24% is cultivated by natural persons and 75% by legal entities (43% corporate farms, 32% cooperatives). The market is totally liberalized. All the agro-processing industries were also privatized, immediately after 1989. Water supply and sewerage systems are operated by specialized companies, some even by farming and housing cooperatives, technical services, state forest enterprises, the army and private individuals.
Availability of agricultural inputs
The high cost of inputs has limited their use; this has had a negative effect on the average yield of some crops and on the level of total production. Production subsidies are increasing after a decline in the past five years.
The Czech Republic has joined the UPOV Convention and national legislation respects IPR and all principles accepted by EC. The new law on seeds, in force from January 2000, aims at compatibility with EU legislation. The Austrian law was taken as pattern. Certified seed is used on nearly 25% of the area, compared to nearly 100% before the 1990s. The government provides subsidies to the seed industry.
After the 1990s, through a quick privatization system, almost all the existing state breeding centres were privatized and nothing was lost. Only the Research Institute of Crop Production, where the Gene Bank is situated, remains a state institute, with a basic research role. New breeding lines created there are shared with other breeding centres and the royalty divided between them.
The breeding of high yielding varieties continues in private stations, many of which participate in associations, with better efficiency and at less cost. More than 80% of varieties in use are national varieties. Due to advanced breeding, the national cultivars and F1 hybrids are still competitive with foreign ones in most important crops, including cereals, potatoes, vegetables and fruit trees, with the exception of sugar beet, sunflower and F1 maize. The price of national varieties is lower than that of foreign ones. A considerable number of Czech varieties are registered now in the European list of cultivars and commercialized in western countries.
Variety evaluation, registration and release
Variety evaluation, registration and release is centralized and performed by the Central Institute for Supervising and Testing in Agriculture (in Brno), which has various specialized institutes in different regions. The national and foreign varieties must be tested for one to three years in official trials and then proposed to the Ministry of Agriculture for approval and registration, and then published in the official catalogue. In emergency, the Ministry may decide to introduce untested varieties.
After joining EU the west European varieties will not need to be authorized for use, but the trials will continue to chose the most appropriate cultivars.
Seed is produced mainly by private seed companies, which are organized in very active associations. The breeding stations produce only small quantities of pre-basic seed, the rest being multiplied mainly on specialized farms. According to the new law, all persons multiplying seed must be registered in the Central Institute for Supervising and Testing in Agriculture, have the needed knowledge or appropriate education on seed through courses, and pay a fee. Seed multiplication for export (national and foreign varieties) also occurs in the Czech Republic. At the same time, due to higher EU subsidies, some Czech varieties are being multiplied in EU countries to be used in the country.
Seed testing, certification and control
The Division of Seeds and Planting Materials of the Central Institute for Supervising and Testing in Agriculture performs all the analyses, controls and certification of seed produced in the country. ISTA methods are applied for all crops. The special state inspectorate approves the seed multiplication plots, controlling variety characteristics, diseases, etc. Pre- and post-harvest controls are applied, and the seeds are certified according to ISTA and OECD models. Continuous controls and analysis for virus presence are performed on tree planting materials. The Czech Republic is among the founders of ISTA. In the Seeds Division, 99% of the staff are women and also 20% of field inspectors. In June 1998, there was a commemoration of 120 years of seed control. The uncertified seed in use comes nearly all from the reproduction of own seed by farmers for their own use.
Seed processing, storage marketing and distribution
The processing of seed is performed by specialized private companies under contract. Modern seed plants able to cover all needs for high quality seed prepare the seed to EU standards. These companies also process seed for export and act also within the frame of trade associations, where the Czech Seed Trade Association is the biggest in the country, supplying 92% of certified seed in the country. The state subsidies for farmers, matching the EU model, are vital for the continuation of breeding and seed production activity and also for increasing certified seed use. In seed marketing and distribution, there are also foreign companies supplying a significant portion of the market (especially for hybrid cultivars).
Seed training and Extension
Three-day courses take place annually for field inspectors and field samplers (more than 100) on special topics, with the participation of university teachers, and also courses for qualification of laboratory staff performing seed analyses. Other training and qualifying courses, workshops and field days are organized in the breeding centres and by trade companies in order to present new varieties.
Application of plant biotechnology
Advanced biotechnology methods are used mainly in the Research Institute of Crop Production and in some breeding stations. New lines, belonging to a series of crops and resistant to diseases and different kind of stresses, have been created there. These plants are passed to specialized breeding centres for final breeding work into new varieties.
Plant genetic resources
The National Gene Bank is situated at the Research Institute of Crop Production and has 46 000 accessions held under good conditions. Field genebanks for tree plants are kept in different areas. The Institute collaborates regularly with IPGRI and with COST programme, and studies seed conservation.
The results of the institute are provided to breeding stations (most now private) and presented annually at joint meetings with the National Board for Plant Genetic Resources in collaboration with the Ministry of Agriculture.
The institute considers it important to continue exploration of the eastern area (Bohemia), where industrial pollution is present, in order to find wild forms of interest for strengthening fruit tree developments.