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Learning from each other: Croatian farmers study the Austrian experience

By Axel  Reiserer

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Learning from each other: Croatian farmers study the Austrian experienc

  • EBRD and Wageningen University join forces to support Croatian farmers
  • Study visit to Austria discusses ways to address market challenges
  • Improving competitiveness and professionalism are key findings

A study visit to the south Austrian province of Styria has provided Croatian farmers with the opportunity to examine ways in which to develop the horticultural sector and exchange views on how to successfully address market challenges.

The tour was initiated by the EBRD and organised in conjunction with the Wageningen University & Research (Netherlands) and with the support of the Austrian Federal Ministry for Sustainability and Tourism. The study tour was part of the project “Innovation for Agribusiness (Central and Southeastern Europe)” and was a follow-up on a thorough analysis of business opportunities for Croatian fruit and vegetable growers published recently by Wageningen Economic Research. The tour took place on 15-17 October 2018.

Styria is home to 80 per cent of Austria’s apple production. However, aggressive competition from other producers and increasingly unpredictable weather conditions represent serious challenges. Late frost destroyed about 50 per cent of the apple harvest in 2017 and 80 per cent the year before, causing €400 million in damages. The state supports investment in protection, yet uncertainty remains.

As a consequence, farmers are seeking to diversify their income either by introducing new products, moving to high-value products or expanding into agro-tourism. The study visit provided the visitors with the opportunity to examine examples of each approach. Furthermore, the participants saw examples of successful cooperatives and producer associations, as well as the logistics and distribution of fresh fruit and vegetables.

The tour examined the Styrian fruit and agricultural sector with the aim of drawing lessons for the Croatian market. Examples of lessons learned included the importance of the value chain, the strategic move into quality and the crucial support that well-targeted marketing can provide. Authenticity and culture are the basis upon which high quality can command attractive rewards.

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Victoria Zinchuk, EBRD Director for Croatia, said: “We are very happy to support knowledge exchange that benefits the Croatian agribusiness sector to promote innovation and investment in high value added products. The study visit to Styria, supported by the government of Austria, will help Croatian farmers to grow their businesses and substantially improve their profitability by implementing new ideas inspired by the visit in their local operations.”

Katja Logatcheva, Project leader at Wageningen Economic Research, commented: “In our background study on the opportunities of Croatian farmers, we concluded that improving competitiveness and professionalism, and exploring new markets will strengthen farmers’ potential. The study visit to Austria has shown that it is possible to create value in a challenging market environment. A positive image and a constructive dialogue with stakeholders are important conditions for a viable future of the Croatian farming sector.”

The study visit was attended by 28 people, mostly Croatian fruit and vegetable growers, but also representatives of public services and the University of Zagreb. Leonhard Madl, President of the Young Farmers Association of Styria, and Ines Dundovic, representing the Croatian Young Farmers Association, agreed on a visit of young Austrian farmers to Croatia next year.

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