About 75% of the country is lowland, with an average elevation of 113 m above sea level; there are mountains along the southern border. The climate, according to Koeppens classification, is temperate in the west and southwest, with moderately severe winters and mild summers with frequent showers; in the rest of the country it is cold type.
Arable land and permanent crops cover 14.4 million ha, of which 0.1 million ha are irrigated; permanent pastures cover 4.0 million ha and forests 8.7 million ha. Wheat, rye, barley, oats and triticale were the most widely cultivated cereal crops in 1997-98, followed by fodder crops, potatoes, industrial crops, vegetables and fruit. The percentage of area planted with qualified seed material varies from 40% for triticale to 14% for rye. The average for cereals is 28% and for potatoes 28%. Horticultural crops are almost exclusively grown from certified seed material.
Almost 28% of the land area is endangered by wind erosion, and an equal area threatened by water erosion and 18.2% by gullying. In spite of the fact that there are very good soils in the country, there are also low-yield sandy or alkaline soils. Soil exhaustion is caused by simplified crop rotation, long-term monoculture and reduced fertilizer use, including organic fertilizer.
Agricultural exports include various food products, including cereals and potatoes, and Poland is a major regional exporter of fruit, some types of vegetables and mushrooms.
The labour force participation ratio of women to men was 0.9 in 1998.
The main seed imports were grasses (2 620 t), maize (2 010 t), tubers (1 780 t), and beet (1 510 t), while the main seed exports were cereals (4 490 t), tubers (3 570 t), and grasses (1 450 t).
National agricultural policy
In 1998, a medium-term strategy for agriculture and rural development was adopted, aiming at the establishment of a structural and rural development policy. Several years of sustained economic growth have helped to reduce social problems, but pockets of high unemployment and rural poverty remain. The liberalization of international trade made it difficult for Polish farmers to sell all their products and this resulted in the introduction of minimum prices for most affected products Polands agri-food industry has been strengthened in recent years through considerable investment (including foreign investment). The re-structuring of the Bank for Food Economy aims at improving the quality and level of agricultural credit in Poland. The Governments determination to enter the EU is influencing most aspects of its economic policy. Due to poor producer price prospects, there were reduced plantings of cereal crops for the 1999/2000 season.
Up to 1989, 75% of arable land was owned by private farmers, the balance belonged to agricultural cooperatives or state farms. The average farm size was about 6.5 ha, but more than 30% of the farms were less than 2 ha. The real land market in Poland was created by establishing the State Treasury Agricultural Property (AWRSP) in 1991, that incorporated 4.6 million ha, sold less than 1 million ha and disposed of the rest mostly by leasing. The reason for being unable to sell more land is ascribed to the limited financial resources of farmers and the low potential profitability of some of the land. The majority of small farms are subsistence type, contributing very little to the market for agricultural produce.
Efforts to liberalize the agricultural sector stimulated the development of private agro-food enterprises, and the establishment of wholesale markets and of agricultural stock exchanges. However structural problems remain, such as surplus labour and low farm productivity.
Availability of agricultural inputs
Investment has been extremely limited, if not inadequate; the costs of fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides remain high; in general, the increase in the prices of agricultural products over the last ten years has been much lower than those for agricultural inputs, thus creating a gap that tends to reduce farmers resources. The government has established special credit lines that may be used according to certain criteria; their use seems to have been limited.
Gender diversity is fully evident at all levels of the Polish society, including employment in ministries (Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development), research, breeding and seed control centres, and among students of Agricultural Universities. The situation at farm level and in provision of extension services is unclear. Concern has been expressed that changes in the location of schools in rural areas and new employment opportunities in certain locations may cause premature departure from secondary schools.
The latest law regulating the seed sector is from 1995; it was followed by ministerial decrees and regulations. The law still requires adjustment for closer harmonization with EU legislation. In lieu of PBR, the Law makes reference to levies. There is a Polish Seed Trade Association comprising national and foreign seed companies and national breeders; the membership represents 70% of the seed traded on the market. In March 2000, the Association was developing proposals for a national seed strategy.
There are twenty breeding centres or enterprises, employing a total of 217 plant breeding specialists. They deal with a large range of species among cereals, vegetables, fodder crops, industrial crops, fruit, etc. Some of the centres belong to the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Economy, others to universities or public institutions. The activity of such breeders is not entirely self-financed, being still supported by the State. Poland is a member of UPOV (1991 convention) and of the ECP subregional network.
The varieties developed by Polish breeders are mainly for cereals, potato, pulse crops, hop, tobacco, herbs, and for some vegetables and ornamental plants. Some of the seed or propagating material used in Poland is multiplied in warmer countries and imported for crop production. Foreign seed companies are particularly active in the field of horticultural crops and hybrids.
Variety evaluation, testing and registration
Responsibility for testing new varieties and for their registration has been assigned to the Research Centre for Cultivar Testing (COBORU) at Slupia Wielka, near Poznan. The Centre uses DUS tests and applies UPOV testing guidelines, with two to three years of official trials. It is responsible for maintaining and publishing the National List of Registered Varieties, which numbered 1 147 on 15 September 1999, and for reviewing applications for PBR. According to current law, the registration is for an indefinite period of time, rather than for 10 years, as in EU countries. Normally in Poland, registration also means official release. The Centre has consultancy and advisory status to the National Seed Board and the Ministry of Agriculture. The Centre carries out post-registration control programmes.
Crop area under improved varieties
Officials at the Ministry and at other state institutions are concerned that small farmers do not purchase certified seed. This is mainly due to their limited resources, in spite of 20% state subsidies for the purchase of certified seed. However, other sources have mentioned that small farmers might still obtain good seed through barter agreements, and sometimes even pre-breeder seed when commercial ethics are not followed as they should. The result is that the average quality of seed used does not suffer.
This activity is carried out on large farms that belong to seed breeding institutes, or under contractual arrangements for about 100 seed companies (including foreign companies). Some production of seed and propagating material is also performed outside Poland (e.g. for beet and maize). For cereals, the cost of seed is usually 50% above that of grain.
For cereals and fibre plants, Pre-basic seed comprises Super Elite and Elite; for fodder plants and small seed legumes it comprises Super Elite and Breeding Elite; for fodder plants, grasses and oil plants it is just Breeding Elite. All Basic seed is named Oryginal, and certified seed lots have I and II Certificates; beet hybrids have just the hybrid; and oil plants have only Certificate I.
Breeding enterprises organize their own production on the basis of agreements and licences. According to the Seed Inspection Service, qualified seed material is produced on 39 000 fields, covering an area of 218 000 ha (including some 3 500 ha for vegetables). Inspected fruit tree nurseries in 1998 were 1 023, covering an area of 811 ha.
Seed testing, certification and control
The Seed Inspection Service of the General Inspectorate is the body responsible for field inspections, control and certification of seed and vegetatively propagated material throughout Poland. Three of its laboratories are accredited with ISTA. Poland participates in the OECD Scheme for Fruit and Vegetables and in the Schemes for Varietal Seed Certification for Herbage and Oil Seed, Cereals, Beet, Maize and Sorghum.
The methodology for seed testing of field crops, vegetables and ornamental plants is that of ISTA, and must satisfy the National Standards of Quality (NSQ); for potatoes it is NSQ and Standard-1 of ECE; for fruit trees and shrubs it is the NSQ and the EPPO methodology. All seed material that is certified and marketed must be tested by a laboratory and accompanied by a certificate.
Seed processing, storage and supply
All companies dealing with the marketing and distribution of seed must be authorized by a Regional Seed Inspector. Seed processing and storage is reported to be generally satisfactory, with a few exceptions in the case of small seed companies. The main shortcoming seems to originate from defective (or lack of) gravity tables. There are some 3 000 seed retailers and the value of seed traded per year amounts to approximately US$ 35 million, whereas the cost of the government subsidy to the sector is around US$ 10 million. In 1996, there were 674 agricultural cultivars on the Polish market (21% foreign) and 705 vegetable cultivars (50% foreign). Among cultivars under trial for registration, the percentage of foreign cultivars was higher.
Farmers are kept informed and updated about recommended seed practices and the availability of new varieties, with related instructions, through local Chambers of Agriculture and with the assistance of the Ministry of Agriculture, the Polish Seed Trade Association, or large seed research and breeding centres. Farmers and extension personnel participate in field trials and visits, and in open-door activities or farm days.
Research centres and Universities provide technical training in the seed sector. COBORU has countrywide responsibility for training in the evaluation of the economic importance of new varieties.
Application of plant biotechnologies
Some techniques are in use at the Plant Breeding and Acclimatization Institute (IHAR) for plant tissue culture. Other centres may also use biotechnology.
Plant genetic resources
In 1995, Poland had 91 802 genebank accessions. The main collections were at the Plant Breeding and Acclimatization Institute (IHAR), Radzikow, near Warsaw (431 species and 46 642 accessions); at the Botanical Garden of the Plant Breeding and Acclimatization Institute, Bydgoszcz (38 species and 17 703 accessions); and at the Plant Breeding Station of Wiatrowo (43 species and 4 264 accessions).