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The land

There are mountains in the central and northern part of the country, and lowlands in the south. The climate is mostly of the cold type, with temperate areas in the west of the country.

Arable lands and permanent crops cover 1.6 million ha, of which 0.2 million ha is irrigated; permanent pastures cover 0.8 million ha, with forests on 2.0 million ha. The main crops include wheat, barley, maize, oil crops, as well as potatoes, sugar beet, vineyards and fruit trees.

Agricultural sector

Slovakia aims to join OECD and EU; it has therefore embarked on a series of changes in policies and regulations to facilitate harmonization of practices, under a special National Programme. The accession of Slovakia to the EU will be in the medium term. The country is a member of CEFTA and has signed free trade agreements with several other countries. Slovakia is a member of EPPO.

The privatization of agriculture has been applied in all sectors - land, agri-food marketing, agro-industries, etc. - and was fully completed in 1997. Small private farms and business entities have been created from previous big state ones. The Slovak market continues to suffer from a lack of contractual arrangements.

Wheat and sugar beet exports have increased, whereas vegetable exports have collapsed. The customs union with the Czech Republic is governed by a special council. In the long term, trading relationships are likely to be governed increasingly by Slovakia’s links with the EU. A new grain storage and trading regime was established, based on the USA system of warehouse receipts.

Land tenure

Re-structuring of the farm sector has involved the liquidation of a number of state farms, which have been divided into smaller private farms. Cooperative farms continue to exist, but they have been transformed into new types of business entities, where the 'agricultural co-operatives' have 54% of the arable land; commercial enterprises, 30%; and private farmers, 8%; with an average size from 1 100 to 1 500 ha. There is a tendency for 'agricultural cooperatives' to pass in the form of commercial enterprises, being more efficient.

Availability of agricultural inputs

In the early 1990s, there were shortages of inputs, particularly fertilizers, and credit continues to be difficult to obtain. However, the State Support Fund to Agriculture and Food Industry has provided loans to the agro-food sector at subsidized interest rates. Low purchasing power remains the main problem of the farmers and of agriculture in general. Currently, the level of state subsidies is related to the surface of land in possession, permitting a freer and better use of them.

Seed sector

The current law on varieties and seeds has been in force since January 1999. It is based on the previous legal code of 1996, and aims for compatibility with EU laws. Slovakia is a member of UPOV. Certified seed is used on nearly 25% of the surface, compared to nearly 100% before the 1990s. The main imported seeds are F1 maize (50%), F1 sunflower, potato basic seed and some vegetables. Local varieties are far more used than foreign ones, due to good adaptability and yield capacity. Seed multiplication for export is performed for some crops, including peas, beans, and wheat.

Plant breeding

Plant breeding activity that previously took place at various State Plant Breeding Stations still continues, but the stations are all privatized. Only the Research Institute of Plant Production in Piestani, where the National Genetic Bank is situated, remains statal. No genetically modified plants are accepted in the official trials. The breeding activity of private stations continues with the same intensity and in some cases it has expanded. A considerable number of Slovak cultivars (e.g. vegetable varieties from Zelsed Co.) are exported to European countries. Associations of breeders and seed producers have been created.

Variety evaluation, registration and release

Variety evaluation, registration and release is performed by the Central Institute for Inspection and Testing in Agriculture of the Ministry of Agriculture, which has various branches in the regions. The national and foreign varieties are tested in official trial fields for two to three years, and on basis of those results they are analysed by special commissions, which recommend them to the Ministry. New varieties are registered in the official catalogue, published each year. Only the varieties of economically important species must be registered, namely major field crops, a large number of vegetable species, fruit trees and root crops. They are registered on a Special List of species and seeds. Slovakia is admitted by OECD to register cultivars.

Seed production

Seed producers must be authorized to exercise their activity. Seed is produced mainly by private seed companies who organize multiplication on different farms. The breeding stations in general produce only the higher generations, whereas multiplication is performed on specialized farms. Lower prices favour seed production for export, which is directed toward European countries. The presence of an informal seed sector is related to production for own use.

Seed testing, certification and control

Field control and laboratory testing are carried out by inspectors and laboratories of authorized companies, under the overall supervision of the State authorities. The special Division of the Central Institute for Inspection and Testing, with offices in other regions of the country, is charged by the Ministry to analyse seeds and also control and organize inspection from sowing to processing. ISTA rules and methods are applied in the laboratory for all crops, with additional special analyses for disease resistance and disease presence.

Varieties of species on the Special List can only be sold if certified by the State control agency or if guaranteed by individual companies, but always under the supervision of the State. Slovakia participates in four OECD Schemes for varietal seed certification (Herbage and Oil Seeds, Cereals, Beet, Maize and Sorghum). It also participates in the Scheme for Fruit and Vegetables.

Seed processing, storage, marketing and distribution

The processing of seed is performed mainly by private seed trade companies, often under contract to the multiplying entity. The processing industry is working well and producing seed meeting European standards and permitting direct export of seed.

In seed marketing and distribution, foreign private companies are present, e.g. Pioneer, which has a strong market in F1 maize and in F1 sunflower.

Seed training and extension

Annual workshops are organized by the Institute for Inspection and Testing in Agriculture to present the new varieties to farmers. Private breeding companies and stations, and also traders, organize demonstration field days or harvest days. The international fair of Nitra is also a place where various workshops and presentations on new varieties and seeds take place.

Application of plant biotechnology

In May 1999, a law on GMOs was in preparation to regulate the application, testing, approval and registration of GMO varieties in Slovakia. National oversight is entrusted to the National Advisory Committee for the Assessment of GM Plants, established in 1997. Advanced biotechnology methods are used in the Research Institute of Plant Production in Piestani, where plants with new characteristics are created and then passed to the breeding stations.

Plant genetic resources

The main Genebank collection remained in Prague (now the Czech Republic), so a new genebank was build in Piestani at the Research Institute of Plant Production, to where part of the accessions from Prague were transferred. There are now nearly 25 000 accessions in this new Genebank. The Genebank has good relations with the Genebank in Prague and also with other breeding stations. There are other collections, with a total of 14 500 accessions, throughout the country, in 18 plant breeding centres (including the commercial sector), botanical gardens, etc. The Institute undertakes crop activities for cereals, legumes and forages, and also provides special training courses on biotechnology methods for students of other countries in transition.

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