Without association, there is no survival in agriculture

26. February 2021. VeeMee

At a time of market globalization, when the Croatian farmers no longer knows what the association or the cooperative is for, and wonders why is left to itself and how much the state takes care of them, you should come to Varaždin County, Vidovec. There is the centre of vegetable production and  the headquarter of the Agricultural Cooperative Varaždinsko povrće. At this place, you can get simple answers to almost all questions

This is the description we found on the website of the Agricultural cooperative Varaždinsko povrće. After reading it, we realized that we would not be able to introduce you to this inspiring story on better way. It is a story about “small people” who do great things together. And although we most often equate agriculture with work, sweat, dust and the “male world”, at the head of this one, one woman bravely stands. She is the manager of the Cooperative, and her name is Kristina Vidaček.

When we asked her how it is that a woman stands at the head of this male world she answers that it was actually completely logical. Her grandfather and then father let agriculture take an important place in their family many years ago. And although the dynamism and unpredictability of this job makes her constantly present and do not allow her to ” loose the temper”, people are those who make her go to work every day with the thought that she has chosen the only right path for herself. And her colleague Mirta Vidaček, whom she especially praises, makes her working days much easier! And to get you ahead – no, they’re not sisters. 😊

Vegetables produced in the fields of Varaždin are one of the highest quality. However, aware that only with joint efforts they can achieve their goals in an increasingly demanding and turbulent market, farmers in the Municipality of Vidovec in 2005 founded the Agricultural cooperative Varaždinsko povrće and wrote the first pages of this success story. By founding the Agricultural Cooperative, Vidovec cooperatives sent a clear message that they want to improve their production and provide the market and Croatian consumers with a better and more regular supply of vegetables. Ms. Vidaček told us that at that time only few people believed that anything would change. However, today this Cooperative is viewed in a completely different way.

In 15 years of existence, they encountered many obstacles, and along the way they skillfully and diligently overcame them. On the way to achieving the mission (to win a leading position in the production and distribution of agricultural products in the north of Croatia), the first obstacle was the lack of space for construction and equipment, i.e. the absence of a distribution center.

In 2013, halfway between Varaždin and Nova Ves, they got their own distribution center, popularly called “Barutana”. In July of the same year, a modernly equipped space of the purchase and distribution center was put into operation. Cooperative members invested in it more than 2.5 million kuna of their own money. Ms. Vidaček points out that this is the largest investment project of the Agricultural Cooperative, which fulfills one of the basic preconditions for the development of the Cooperative and increase production. However, the fact that for years Barutana was only leased to them, prevented them from applying for tenders from European Union funds. That is why they have been pointing out their problems since 2017, but also a solution in the form of buying the facility. Countless meetings, letters, pleas, effort, work, and perseverance finally paid off. After four years, the Cooperative received a decision and a contract from the Ministry of Physical Planning, Construction and State Property for the purchase of real estate, and this is a key step for all future activities.

Besides hard-working cooperatives that constantly have their sleeves rolled up in field, Varaždin County has provided and continues to provide great assistance to the Cooperative. They were at their disposal from the earliest ideas of founding the Cooperative, all the way to the supply of the most modern equipment and machines. They were also there in the realization of the first major investment – the purchase of the most modern product packaging line, in the education of cooperatives, marketing and promotion. Assistance was not lacking in the process of buying the distribution center, and it continues today when they face ambitious plans and investments worth millions.

“In addition to the packaging line, we are building a refrigerator, i.e. a warehouse for 3,000 tons of potatoes. Also, we hope to get the status of a producer organization in a month or two, which we have been working on for several months. Investing is not easy, but without investing there is no progress. The results achieved in the first 15 years show that the Vidovec cooperatives have laid a solid foundation on which the generations to come can develop a serious business “- Ms. Vidaček proudly points out.

Today, the cooperative has ten cooperative members who cultivate about 450 hectares of agricultural land, all of whom come from the Municipality of Vidovec. Among them is a “gold-worthy” family farm. Family farm Košić Mario, a longtime member of the cooperative won 3rd place in the selection for the best family farm “Gold-worthy” in 2020.

Annually, the cooperatives produce about 6,000 tons of various vegetables. It is mostly potatoes and cabbage that together make up 80 percent of total production. But lately, more and more attention is being paid to kale, beets, onions and leeks. The production and sale of cooperative vegetables is growing from year to year, and the goal of Vidovec cooperatives is to produce, succeed in the market and, as they say, “stay in their field”. In the time of globalization, when the Croatian market is flooded with cheap imports of beautiful appearance, but of questionable quality, this is not easy to achieve at all.

Today, accurate and timely traceability of products and activities in the supply chain has become a new key factor in food and agribusiness in general – says Ms. Kristina. Increasingly, consumers around the world are looking for verifiable evidence of traceability, as an important criterion for the quality and safety of a food product. Traceability, she says, plays an important role in facilitating companies ’competitiveness in the domestic and global markets. The Agricultural Cooperative Varaždinsko povrće is therefore the first cooperative to have food traceability in digital form. They really provide food safety to their customers. Guess how? The answer, we believe, you already know, and it is hidden in the well-known QR code that asks us every time we buy groceries: “Do you know what you are eating?

Dramatic changes in Croatian and world agriculture are also dictated by the COVID-19 pandemic. At the start of the pandemic, cooperative sales were better than ever. However, time passed and the pandemic could not be curb, so sales went downhill. Coronavirus has caused more severe economic consequences to agriculture, but the strongest blow to the Varaždinsko povrće was potato price drop.

Yet one day all of this will be a thing of the past and another overcomed obstacle that cooperatives will laugh at. This pandemic will not erase their results. It will not erase even the most important thing – the confirmation of the idea that progress can be made by associating even in relatively small areas. The idea has turned into a reality, a reality that has been going on for 15 years, all thanks to the harmony, hardworking hands of the cooperatives and the faith they have in themselves and in each other.

Ms. Vidaček summed up the secret of success as follows: “Without association, there is no survival in agriculture.”

So, we say to all Croatian counties: find a model in the Agricultural Cooperative Varaždinsko povrće! We wish them constant growth and success 😊

Until next reading,

Your VeeMee advisor

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