The Slovenia Times

Slovenia boasts one of the most efficient systems for ensuring food safety



How would you assess the current state of Slovenian agriculture?

Firstly, I would like to point out that Slovenia is a country with great potential and the necessary natural resources for agriculture. While a large part of agricultural land in Slovenia is located in areas with limiting factors, I believe this can be considered an advantage or high added value. In a way, it encourages a more boutique production of agricultural produce or products. These areas demand special cultivation, which is oftentimes more natural and thus provides excellent conditions for the development of ecotourism. The branches in Slovenia that are highly traditional and well established also from the point of view of self-sufficiency include cattle farming, milk production, chicken farming, beekeeping and fruit growing in terms of apples and permanent plantations. The weaker branches include vegetable farming and the growing of other fruits. In the last decade, we have also had low self-sufficiency rates for pork. Slovenia is traditionally a country of viticulture, where on the one hand we have highly developed vineyards with exceptional, high-quality products. Sadly, on the other hand, vineyard properties are highly fragmented, so there are numerous small vineyards that do provide a solid source of income. In this sense, they are highly challenging and call for special attention.

As you have mentioned, Slovenia is witnessing alarming self-sufficiency rates for certain produce and products. How can we increase local production and consumption?

One of the difficult challenges is definitely tackling the strategic plan for strengthening the loss-making branches or those branches that are marked by lesser self-sufficiency. In terms of vegetables, we must focus on investing in a technological overhaul, especially in the sense of prolonging out-of-season production by setting up greenhouses and using modern farming methods, which enable a higher production outside the typical seasons. We should also ensure a greater protection from environmental impacts. Lately, we have witnessed highly unfavourable weather conditions - from draughts, hail and frost to crops rotting due to excessive rainfall. This is why in the next financial perspective we want to focus on encouraging farmers to protect their crops from various weather conditions by setting up anti-hail nets and irrigation systems as well as spraying crop for frost protection and similar. In terms of pig farming, I am considering the implementation of highly systemic solutions involving the establishment of entire chains, which start on crop fields with the production of grains for feeding our livestock, and then working on a high-as-possible production of home-bred livestock. In several years, this could enable us to achieve a 10-percent increase in self-sufficiency rates for pork.

New technologies are being introduced to different industries, including agriculture. What is the situation like in Slovenia and how can the state be of help?

This is one of the most important goals of the new strategy for developing Slovenian agriculture, which is in desperate need of a technologic overhaul. Only farms that are focused on development and are equipped with modern technology - including various digitalisation systems - can achieve sufficient long-term production, adequate market orientation and competitiveness in agricultural markets.

Can this be one of the factors that would retain and attract the youth to agriculture?

One of the key challenges of Slovenian agriculture is the necessity to face the question of a generational overhaul. In the sense of generational structure, Slovenian agricultural economies are old because the average age of farm owners is 57 years. This means we must start attracting the youth to agriculture, which is a lengthy process. The notions of farming and agriculture are unpopular in the society. We must first raise the youth's awareness of how significant the role of farming and agriculture is in today's society. Then, we must enable the conditions for them to start farming in the first place. One of these conditions is the availability of farming land, which is highly limited in Slovenia. The lands currently being sold on the market are expensive, and the state has few agricultural lands at disposal that it could offer the youth to start farming. This is why we would like to change the related legislation. A technologic overhaul and the start of digitalisation of Slovenian agriculture will definitely be brought about by the young generation. As they acquire farms, we must give them a chance to equip themselves with technology and different innovative approaches, and to digitalise their farming processes.

You have mentioned extreme weather, which causes significant damage in agriculture. How is Slovenian agriculture equipped for combating weather changes?

Seeing how we are witnessing high-damage cases, we cannot be satisfied with the current situation. We face a different catastrophe each year. This year, for instance, we had exceptionally high rainfall, so we are experiencing problems with rotting crops and fruits, as well as problems with bees. This is why, in the future, we plan on focusing more on protection, i.e. risk management. But this cannot be limited to subsidised insurance premiums only. In the existing financial perspective, there are certain invitations to tenders for preventive measures. The legislation changes pertaining to land policy are moving towards facilitating the implementation of in-field measures such as setting up larger irrigation systems in areas with different types of land ownership. Due to the amendments in the building legislation and high community infrastructure levies, setting up greenhouses is somewhat more problematic as well. We have started addressing this issue by proposing that it be regulated by the Agriculture Act.

The link between agriculture and tourism has a great potential in Slovenia. How could we better utilise this link and what are the steps that we have already taken to do so?

This is one of the areas which we have already stepped up, and I believe that we can tap into numerous other opportunities than the ones we already have. Gastronomy and oenology are important parts of tourism, and research suggests that tourists are keen on exploring the culinary and vinicultural characteristics of different countries. What is more, tourists dedicate large portions of their taveling budgets to such experiences. In Slovenia, this percentage is still relatively low - about 15 percent. Thus, there is a lot of untapped potential. Each quality food starts with quality ingredients. Seeing how Slovenia has excellent prerequisites for the production of boutique food, which has a rich taste and is oftentimes produced ecologically, this definitely presents a great opportunity for our master chefs. So, where is the problem? We have talked to both sides - to the farms, which want to sell to hotels and restaurants, as well as to restaurant and hotel owners. What we have found is that there is a missing intermediary link that would provide a constant supply and consistent quality. We have various cooperatives and cooperative systems that could play a key role in solving this problem, but this would require the establishment of correct and fair price ratios.

Slovenia boast top-quality food produce and master chefs. which is proven by the various awards they are collecting all over the world. Could we make better use of this?

I have spoken with some of our master chefs. They have all recognized added value in the fact that they could use their culinary masterpieces to promote quality Slovenian ingredients. I have received quite some praise from foreigners as well, for example about Slovenian milk. Supposedly, it has a really good and authentic taste. And this is just one example. Therefore, I believe that it is not enough for chefs to use Slovenian ingredients - they also have to promote them. In many aspects, Slovenia is undoubtedly on par with the top European countries. For instance, our wines easily match the wines produced in France and Germany. However, we could be a little bit more ambitions. We could also do with a higher degree of consistency when it comes to supply and ensuring a consistent level of quality for our products. We will either have to establish good systemic solutions or review and upgrade the existing ones, for instance the cooperative system, which I see as one of the mandatory and essential intermediary links between the producer and final consumer.

How satisfied are you with the success of protecting Slovenian agricultural produce and food? What more could we do? 

Slovenia has quite a few protected products, both at the European and the national level. But we want more because - aside from protection - this is a good way of promoting our indigenous, traditional agricultural and food produce. We would like to upgrade this scheme more ambitiously and pay more attention to including as many products as possible, which would provide the consumer not just with indigeneity and tradition but also with Slovenian origin and, consequently, a certain level of safety and quality. Especially nowadays, when we are being bombarded by products from all over the world.

Now that you have mentioned safety - how safe is Slovenian food?

According to research, Slovenia has one of the three most efficient systems for ensuring food safety. Our system is excellent, which means we control everything from the first step, i.e. from the agricultural inspections on farms, through processing, which is controlled by the Food Safety Administration, to all the food production chains that are under constant control. We are relatively safe. However, occasional scandals speak volumes of how inventive people can be. Even in a system this good, they always find ways for exploitation.

The Ministry has drawn up a resolution entitled "Our food, rural areas and natural resources after 2021", which was subject to a public debate at the end of May. What are the key objectives of this resolution and is this document being drawn up?

The resolution is a strategic and political document. Based on detailed analyses and an overview of the current situation, our strong and weak points, it outlines the important guidelines for the development of Slovenian agriculture after 2020. The resolution is highly goal-oriented and aimed at pinpointing the priority focus areas that will be subject to our interventions in the future, both in terms of national and EU funds. The most important of these priority areas are food production and processing. The reason why food is placed at the forefront of the resolution is that it completely changes the social perception of agriculture. The second important aspect is the preservation of our natural resources, and the third one the preservation and continuous development of rural areas at all levels. Rural areas make up 80% of Slovenia, which is reason enough to keep them developed and vital, making sure that educational, health and social systems in rural areas are well developed. Only this way, people will want to stay, live and work there. The last goal of the resolution is to strengthen and spread knowledge, which will ensure a higher degree of innovation, a better technological overhaul and increased access to knowledge. Knowledge is of no use if confined to educational institutions - it needs to be put into practice and utilized by the economy.


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