Study visit to the Southern Great Plain

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The last station of the series of study trips was the region of the Southern Great Plain, where the young participants visited animal breeding farms, horticultural establishments, a producer cooperation, and even a fridge house, to gain personal experiences about agriculture by walking around the farms and talking to young farmers managing them.

“At the beginning, it was still very hard to get money, there were no bank loans. We asked close and distant relatives for credit, and we got compensation coupons for the Communist-era collectivisation of lands, and this way, we managed to get 150-200 hectares of land that my grandfather started to cultivate” -  starts Zsolt Hegedűs, a young farmer in Kecskemét. His father made a great leap at that time when he left his profession as a leader of carpenters and started to farm. He bought the first tractor: an Mtz, a trailer, a plowplough and a disk harrow. That was how it all started. A few years passed, the machinery proved to be small and deficient, so – for the sake of profitable business – he started to make improvements. He got loans with his machinery as collateral, and thanks to the Sapard subsidy system, he managed to buy a combine as well as a tractor and a manure spreader. Zsolt graduated at the agrarian university of Gödöllő, and started to work in animal breeding. According to his experiences, there is a great demand for organic fertilizers to farm on a piece of land for a long term. Now, the amount of cattle reached 80-100 cows at the farm that creates a considerable amount of organic fertilizer every year, and keeping them would be profitable even just for this input material. Furthermore, fluid fertilizer is transported from the neighbouring farm all year. At the farm, they are trying to cover a wide-spanning verticum. The profitability of plant cultivation, cattle- and chicken keeping is varying every year, but as each other's complementer, they always bring a good average by the end of the year. The carefulness of the good farmer is visible by even the small thing that the rows of trees are looked after every year and maintained to remove obstacles from the way of machinery work and to make satellite images accurate.

The cattle are kept for their meat. When a new calf is born, they buy one or two step siblings for it from neighbouring villages not more far than 30-40 kilometres. so the cow nurtures 2-3 young ones under her. These are sold when they have 200-400 kilograms for live export. In Turkey, these are really in demand, their price had been almost doubled: compared to the 450 forints/kilograms previously, the price of cattle is currently around 900 forints/ kilograms. Now, it is more profitable to sell them alive as slaughtered, since it would not generate such income as a final product.At first, the young ones could see the pen of heifers, the cattle that never bred, that are growing up separated from the bulls until they reach the appropriate weight and development status. Their feeding and keeping is done extensively. The next things to see were the cows, and then the young bulls' pen. The latter ones are fed with roughly milled foodstuff, alfalfa and maize-stalk until they reach 400 kilograms. The farm uses “deep-litter” technology, so the continuous eating and the creation of fertilizer is a circle process. When a thick layer of manure has built up under the animals, it is transported to the fields with a tractor, and the cycle starts again. Along with the cows, a bull is always kept – got from the Association of Hungarian Simmental Breeders – for impregnation. This is because artificial insemination is not used since it would require great care to observe the cows and to inseminate them at the right time. The downside of this method is that it is a great source of danger because of the agression of the bull. They only care about Hungarian Simmentals since this breed can tolerate nomadic lifestyle easily. In the next room, young ones could have seen the youngest calves that are only a few days or weeks old, the mother of which was grazing outside at that time. Giving birth is happening in the open, without any human interference. Diarrhoeal infection represents the main source of danger for them, since it can spread easily among the animals and it is really hard to cure them. The way of defence against can be the frequent change of litter, so keeping the stray clean. The young farmer has also been keeping poultry for years. He brings day-old chickens from Bábolna, that he offers as day-olds, pre-raised or kitchen-ready. Unfortunately, the amount of stock raised had been reduced to half of the original. Sales are conducted locally and markets. Earlier, they also used a hatchery, but it proved to be unprofitable because of the poor proportion of hatched eggs. Regarding sowing, 100-140 hectares of maize are produced per year, with an average yield of 8 tons. Besides maize, wheat, triticale, barley, sunflower and occasionally rapeseed gets a place in crop rotation. In 2004, a central building was erected to let maintenance jobs be done at a roofed place. Containers are used to store the tools and spare parts, separate buildings will not be erected for this. The plastic greenhouses at the estate are used in part to store wheat that is sold locally. The majority of it is sold in one part of course, after drying. The machinery is also stored in plastic greenhouses that provide protection from rain and snow, therefore against rust. Their advantage is that no building permission is needed for them, and their maintenance only means that the plastic needs to be replaced every 2-3 years. The wheat is also stored at the site with such a method for the few months while their own and the buyers' needs do not cause the surplus to be run out. The space under the plastic is enough to hold 150 tons of harvest. Selling is done with a “pick your own” method. In the case of engines, the 80-90 hp category is used, and the working machinery fits accordingly. A change to a bigger category would cause the change of machinery as well, so the investment would take an enormous amount of money. According to the farmer, the starting machinery's category of drawing energy needs to be well-considered. GPS devices are on the tractors, which enable – besides helping to find stolen tractors in the past – to constantly track and monitor the work of them. The newest Mtz was bought for a loan by the young farmer. According to his opinion, the gap between the price of an Eastern and a Western (JD, New Holland) machine can be balanced with usage. But if continuous work is not provided or there is no skilful handler available, it is more rational to choose the cheaper category. The newer machines are made by Valtra. They can give better performance than an Mtz, but they also need more care and spare parts cost more. Currently, they can take care of all the work by themselves with five tractors, a combine and the working machinery.8-10 people are working at the farm, 5-6 out of them are tractor drivers, 1-2 take care of the animals, one of them is a combine driver and there is also a mechanic at the workshop. According to Zsolt Hegedűs, more employees, keeping animals, being young and having appropriate agricultural qualification is an advantage at tender applications. Most of the 320-hectare farm works according to the agro-environmental farming programme.

The next farmer, Csaba Tarjányi sustains the family farm as a traditional small-scale producer at 600 hectares in Kiskunfélegyháza. Farming is conducted since 2001 at the estate. The area was an estate of a cooperation once, but only a renovated reed-roofed stable remained of it. Participants had the chance to have a brief look at the process of a serious investment, since the implementation of a tender application – won in 2010 – is just under way. The full realisation of the investment is scheduled to be done by the autumn of 2012, and a complete complex of buildings, stable and granary building, fertiliser container – in conform with EU standards –, green fodder storage, public utilities, infrastructure, water and road network will have been built. The main focus of the farm is breeding beef cattle. The herd had been created by crossing the Hungarian Simmentals originally kept with the beef-type of charolais bulls. Besides, open-field plant cultivation is done on 200 hectares that mostly serves animal keeping. Besides all of this, the farmer breeds horses as a hobby. A decisive proportion of the animal stock is nurtured using extensive technique. Breeding is in spring, at the end of February, the beginning of March, and the calves are separated from the cows in autumn. The animal stock consists of approximately 700 cows, 100 calves, and 30 horses. Selling is almost exclusively export, especially to the Turkish market. Conducting both plant cultivation and animal breeding together is reasonable and more cost-effective, complexity should be pursued. The two should be connected together, because plant cultivation on fields has a lot of by-products that can be used in animal husbandry, can be recycled.

The next stop of the journey was in Szentes at the horticulture of Dániel Bakó young farmer. Cultivation is not on land but on peat, which means that 3 plants get 1 m x 15 cm x 10 cm for their roots. They use synthetic fertilizer dissolved in liquid. For this, water with good quality and a computer system is needed. To get high-quality water, they use a cleaning device working according to the principle of reverse osmosis. Furthermore, they have a 75 cubic metre puffer tank at their disposal that is used in case of sprinkler system's malfunction controlled by a computer. Because if for example in the summer, in 40 Celsius degrees, they are not watering the plants, the cultivation may dry out. The amount of water and liquid fertilizer given to the plants is determined by the light. In 2002, funded by a tender application, the 240 square-metre building had been erected that was visited by the young ones and which consists of three parts:The first one is the manual storage, the second is the manipulator room. After harvest, the goods are getting here, and it also functions as a common storage. Here, 300-400 crates of pepper are classified per day. At the end of the classification machine, the peppers are loaded into a gullet which doses it to the belt of the photocell-using sorter. The manual labour of 2-4 people is enough for this machine. The sorting process is done as the following: with the help of the photocell, the peppers that are faulty, coloured or lacking calcium, must be removed. The sorting machine is a Hungarian invention: it has a “V”-shaped belt into which the pepper falls, and as the distance grows between the belts, so is the pepper falling down. There must be a crew at the end of the sorting machine that put away the boxes. The machine is worth 3 million forints – in contrast with the Dutch sorting machines that cost 10-12 million forints. Since 30 years, peppers are sorted according to their width, but this year, Tesco got the idea that they should also be sorted according to length, which is absolutely impossible. In the third section of the building, the standards of the “Global Get” qualification system are fulfilled thanks to which the tracking of the goods is possible, because this is the only way to sell them to chain stores or to export them abroad. The classified goods must be labelled by every crate and pack, to make it traceable in case of a secondary check. This whole process is finished for the producers when the goods are transported to DÉLKER-TÉSZ, where they issue a buy-up document. After two weeks, the buy-up ticket or bill is issued and the payment for the goods is done by DÉLKER-TÉSZ is a form of cooperation with 600 members. It is a reliable cooperation helping for producers, it offers 100 days of financing even in case of buying plants. During the year, 100 days of financing is also valid for input material, which is very useful since it can be paid back from the harvest of that year. As a last stop in Szentes, the group visited a heat centre. The company has 20 wells. Well 2 had been drilled earliest, from which water of 84-86 Celsius degrees is gained. It is 2100-2200 metres deep, and has excellent yield. There is a submersible pipe pump in it that is placed 100 metres deep in the well. Hot water is extracted thanks to a pipe. It gets into the heat centre through an insulated pipe network. Nowadays, such a well costs 150-160 million forints, but this is just the well and the other permissions are needed too. When the well had been drilled, it had been a positive well, then after a time it became negative, than – after the elevation of levels – it became positive again. The life expectancy of a well is 30-40 years – although this has been surpassed –, but it can reach 80 years with good maintenance. The layer giving water to the well is the sandstone of the upper Pannonian layer. The water gained this way – which almost reaches the category of healing water – is used to heat a dozen of greenhouses. Each  of these is equipped with heat sensors at two places. The computer is continuously processing the weather data, and according to this, a minimum and maximum alerting level can be set for every greenhouse.

A block of  plastic greenhouses consisting of 4500 square metres and a greenhouse with a single airspace – uniquely in Hungary – covering 2,5 hectares also belongs to the Primőr Profit Ltd. in Szegvár In these, white pepper is cultivated, and Californian pepper on 2,25 hectares. Two greenhouses are in connection with this (one with 5000 and one with almost 4000 square metres) where plant nurslings are grown. The reconstruction of the estate costed 750 million forints. There are six thermal wells at the estate providing water between 67 and 92 Celsius degrees from a depth of 1600-2400 metres. The whole reconstruction of the heat centre had been done. Ground and upper heating are both applied. In the first three blocks of a greenhouse with an are of 21773 square metres, tomato and pepper are grown, and the fourth one is for cabbages and cold-bearing plants. Californian pepper is cultivated on a separated piece of land with an area of 2,25 hectares. The greenhouse of Californian peppers are usually smaller. Pepper types that turn from green to red and yellow are grown. Their main breeds are deniro and redline, but 10 other ones that are also resistant to TSW can be found in the horticultural establishment. Since 2009, cultivation is on a coconut bed – without soil – imported from Sri Lanka. Its advantage is that it can accustom to plants better, it has more air, the plant can grow bigger roots.

The young visitors saw the cold store of the Ternai Ltd. vegetable buyer and producer company that had been finished and opened just weeks before in Szegvár. The building also meant a change of sites: the centre moved from a narrow street to the modern building. The office, the changing room and the dinner room were re-located to the hall. A spacious packing room, a big storage room and two separate cold stores are the working sites. Support was 33 percent, the whole budget approximately half a billion forints. The firm provides income for a hundred families and stable working background for 400 producers. According to the leader of the firm, finding partners is the most critical and hard part of the job. Some partners are paying on the same day, some only after some months. Foreign, Swiss and German buyers were present at the inauguration. The building has a half-automatised loading place for trucks, with which the vehicles can be loaded in 10 minutes. In case of foreign transports, the owner says photographing the state of the goods and chemical residues should be the biggest concern. The latter is examined regularly at Szolnok. The enterprise is not working with partners from Hungary, it only “produces” for abroad.

The group gained countless experiences at the stations of the professional programme. They highlighted only two things as lessons, that they think can be examples for many:
”Always start with the smallest. It is hard to get to the first 30 animals, but there is the same amount of problem with 10 or 20 cows than with 50. you have to take up slowly, and then, step by step, get to the big one, since you can fall bigger from a bigger horse. (...) I like this farm, because I know that it will provide food next year, and also after it, as my grandfather started it, my father continued it, I am also doing it, and probably my father will also make a living here.”
(….)”Complexity is the key. It is reasonable to connect plant cultivation and animal husbandry. Open-field plant growing has a lot of by-products that can also be used in animal keeping, it can be recycled.” (Zsolt Hegedűs)
Furthermore, the visited farmers emphasised that it is necessary for a young farmer to have a qualification in the relevant field and to know the broad rural development support system.