Successful development of a cooperative with organic production of apples and meat including innovative origin tracing procedures to market its products – The Šalek Valley Agricultural Cooperative
- Datum objave 28.09.2021
We highlight an example of best practice which contributes to the main strategic needs in Slovenia – to increase the production of organic meat and fruit. The Šalek Valley Agricultural Cooperative is a cooperative which successfully transfers innovative ideas into practice. It developed an original traceability system using the QR code so that buyers may check prior to purchase on exactly which farm meat was produced and which valid certificates it has. It is also the first cooperative in Slovenia to establish a social enterprise named Zavod darilo narave (Gift of Nature Institute) which employs disabled people.
‟“We have an original traceability system introduced years ago using the QR code so that buyers may check prior to the purchase on exactly which farm meat was produced, where the farm is located and which valid certificates the farm has. This traceability system is upgraded with a new system, the so-called Origin Trail, supported by blockchain technology. This technology facilitates indelible traceability and indelible data. It is a known fact that counterfeit goods of all types, including food products, are a great problem in the global market. Unfortunately, such practices, particularly with food products from vegetables, fruit, meat and other products to products made from them, also appear in Slovenia. We have a very efficient inspection service (Administration of the Republic of Slovenia for Food Safety, Veterinary Sector and Plant Protection), but the temptation for someone to counterfeit a recognised brand and launch the product on the market is strong.”
(Ivan Drev, director of The Šalek Valley Agricultural Cooperative)
We decided to carry out this project because we lost 8 ha of orchards the land for which was leased from the Farmland and Forest Fund of the Republic of Slovenia which transferred this land to the municipality. This was an opportunity for us to write a new story. And because we lost our orchards, while our desire was to have 20 ha of orchards so that we can be someone in the market. Our apples cover a wide local market, the Šalek Valley, the Upper Savinja Valley, part of Koroška and part of the Lower Savinja Valley.
Our orchards cover 16 ha. From this aspect, we are not large but we are also not small. Therefore, it is all the more important to support marketing with a suitable story. For example: everyone produces apple chips, why would we not produce chips with chocolate, cinnamon, etc., nicely packed, boutique made. Such a product cannot easily be found in the market, meaning that the price of our innovative products can be a bit higher.
By setting up orchards of organic apples, we want to obtain a healthy sales item (apple as fresh fruit) and a raw material for other products. Our goal is to set up anti-hail nets over all the orchards, which will be carried out gradually together with the renovation of old orchards, and to build an irrigation system. Our main goal is to produce a top-quality healthy organic product and process it into top-quality food products with the highest added value. With our innovative tracing system, we want to establish the highest possible confidence of our customers and their loyalty to our brands.
A positive decision on our application meant we first had to prepare land for organic farming. We planted sunflowers as a green fertiliser, ploughed and put in plenty of organic fertiliser. Then we planted trees and set up hail protection over 2 ha, while 1 ha will be completed in 2019. The land was deep ploughed and plenty of organic fertiliser was put in. We have a bull farm, which means that we had our own supply of manure which had matured for two years. We did all this especially because the emphasis, despite suitable rotation, in this area used to be the production of corn silage. Therefore, we decided to completely revitalise the land. Suitable provision of land with organic fertilised is extremely important in organic plantations where mineral fertilisers must not be used – for humification. Later, we will use special organic fertilisers (line and phosphor by Timac Agro and a special fertiliser by the French company PRP Technologies which specialises in the production of biostimulants for soil and plants in agriculture. PRP fertilisers stimulate microbiological activity in soil. To this end, we have already carried out tests, dug up pedological holes and checked the situation. When using conventional fertiliser, earthworms occur up to 20 cm deep, while with PRP fertilisers, we have found that earthworms occur up to 60 or 80 cm deep. This depth is important from the aspect of the depth of soil aeration and better conditions for the root system of apple trees. Such fertilisation will also be introduced to our other old apple orchards.
In the year 2018 we completed the setting up of hail protection in old orchards, and received a decision a few days ago on the setting up of hail protection over a further 4 ha. This will be carried out in 2019. Currently, hail protection is set up over 6 ha.
The Šalek Valley Agricultural Cooperative has 12 business units. 2017 was a year of many great achievements for the Šalek Valley Agricultural Cooperative and our members. It was concluded with EUR 8,367.00 of net profit and positive revenue from regular activity. The operating revenues were very encouraging, amounting to EUR 17,287.86, which is slightly over 13 per cent or EUR 2,323,000 more than in 2016. This is the result of a visionary policy, and of serious and fair work of all actors in our cooperative chain.
Operation by sectors was as follows: The turnover of commercial activities was EUR 9,332,258, which is 11.5 per cent more than the year before or 54 per cent of all revenue. By purchasing and selling agricultural products, cooperative units together with the organic unit made a turnover of EUR 7,186,327, which is 19 per cent more than the year before. The turnover of the Turn and Ravne-Šmartno business units was EUR 609,275, which is more than 20 per cent more than the year before or 3.52 per cent of all revenue. The purchase of milk grew by 3 per cent or 14,229,907 litres. The purchase of young fattening cattle and calves was surpassed by 15 per cent, amounting to 1,760 pieces of cattle with 548,321 kg of meat. We are also satisfied with the purchase of cows, which grew by 16 per cent, amounting to 554 pieces of cattle with 152,590 kg of meat. All goods purchased from farmers who are members and non-members were paid regularly on the due date and some were even prepaid. Our organic red meat programme carried out in the EKO-RDEČE MESO business unit grew by 28 per cent; we purchased 222 pieces of organic beef and remain the largest provider in Slovenia.
Investments have been paying off, bringing us greater market shares in new fields and new brand groups.
Fruit industry signifies 1.8 per cent of the cooperative’s operations (carried out within the Turn business unit) – in terms of investments, fruit industry is currently our main focus. We have our own brand SLODAR (since 2007) through which we market fresh apples and products made thereof. This is conventional production. On the other hand, organically produced and processed products are marketed under the brand of EKODAR. Organically produced meat is also marketed under EKODAR (since 2009). We are the first in Slovenia to receive the Selected Quality certificate for organic meat.
We collaborate with over 100 public institutions – nurseries, schools, hospitals, and also sell products online.
We guarantee extraordinary quality. We boast two golden awards for organic apple juice with aronia won in 2017 and 2016 (Delicacies of Slovenian Farms within the AGRA fair). If we win this award next year, we will receive the champion award. This juice is made in collaboration with an organic farmer who supplies us with organically produced aronia.
In 2019 we applied for the irrigation measure. To this end, we have drilled a 70-metre bore, which will probably be deepened to 140 metres to reach sufficient quantities of water.
– Environmental / Climate action:
The Slovenian fruit industry has over 100 years of tradition of growing fruit for sale. Climate change and the awareness that we need to do more to mitigate it has brought about greater demand for organically produced food. Organic fruit production is also a contributing factor; its main goal is to produce top-quality fruit by using organic fertilisers and particularly permitted plant protection products in a controlled and economically acceptable manner, while preserving and in many cases, reestablishing biodiversity. These goals are also pursued by the Šalek Valley Agricultural Cooperative, so we decided to gradually redirect our current production (integrated) to organic by restoring orchards. The first step in the fruit industry was the project to set up an organic apple orchard, and to purchase and set up anti-hail nets. We have done that on 2 ha, while 1 ha will be done in the spring of 2019.
The Šalek Valley Agricultural Cooperative has established a social enterprise named Zavod darilo narave which currently employs four disabled persons. We are the first cooperative in Slovenia to establish such an enterprise. Within this social enterprise, part of the organic apple produce is processed into organic products with higher added value.
– Networking value:
The Šalek Valley Agricultural Cooperative collaborates with over 700 farms and has almost 340 members. Its operations were expanded to the Upper Savinja Valley whose own cooperative went bankrupt. We have two shops in the area (Nazarje and Luče), where around 35 per cent of all turnover is made.
In 2018, we also introduced a benefits card which will stimulate our business relationships. A mechanism was introduced which enables members of the cooperative to buy at a lower price and provides a loyal mutual relationship.
For the products of our brands, particularly organic meat, to keep their reputation among consumers and for consumers to be absolutely sure that these products are ours and not fake, we implemented state-of-the-art traceability technology, i.e. the Origin Trail, supported by blockchain technology. This technology facilitates indelible traceability and indelible data. This is extremely important for us, as we are a cooperative and cannot allow any of our members, farmers, to become victims of unscrupulous actions by third parties.
Šalek Valley Agricultural Cooperative,
Metleče 7, 3325 Šoštanj
Contact person: Ivan Drev
Phone: 00 386 03 898 49 70
Additional info sources, links: http://ekodar.si/, https://www.facebook.com/slodar/
Photo copyright: ČZD Kmečki glas d. o. o.