Your correspondent has been traveling in Italy and Slovenia and has been looking at how their countryside is being developed.
The three big things which you see in both countries are:
- Big companies are missing in small villages and in the tourist, farm (dairy, meat & wine) and retail sectors.
- Families in these villages are running much of these sectors and retail business and are working long hours every day except for the “free day”
- They only employ the family members and, if the labor market is tight, a few low cost foreigners! There is a great tradition of neighbours helping one another when needed for special cases.
In Slovenia they have have solved the challenges of the agriculture sector in much the same way as Italy. But you must recall that Slovenia in a relatively new country of just 2 million people spun off from dear old Tito’s Yugoslavia!
They are small both in numbers and its geography is both flat and mountainous, squeezed in between Italy Austria, Croatia, Hungary and the Adriatic Sea – and it is those constraints that make things interesting because it is in a central position with many great and beautiful landscapes. They receive millions of tourists who tramp around and pass through the country.
They have an incredible beautiful Lake Bled, deep caves with huge stalactites that form on the ceilings of caves, and stalagmites that are found on their ground.
Many old vineyards exist on the hills and mountainsides with top quality wines. They relish in promoting their own wines and other foodstuffs. Ljubljana, Slovenia’s capital, has baroque facades mixed with the 20th-century architecture of Jože Plečnik. The streets in the old town are packed with locals and tourists enjoying this wine and food. It is ironic that a city of just 200 000 and a population of 2 million can achieve such a thriving, clean and interesting city. They put the Nordic cities to shame with their authentic atmosphere.
The emphasis is on local production of wine and foodstuffs.
A second matter that attracted our attention is that new and old houses are being built to a high standard. Your correspondent visited several homes in the city and in the countryside. It seems that they are able to house their own at much higher standards than the UK! The houses are well built, warm and have a clear charm associated with their long history as part of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire.
The farmers in the countryside farm the land for hay and wine – they sell their milk to private wholesale buyers and the best receive 30 euro cents a litre. One farmer explained that he had 170 cows of which 70 were producing 1600 litres each day, with one bull producing some 40 calves each year. The male calves were sold to meat producers, while the female calves were kept to beef up milk supplies. The farmer had no debt, two houses, one renovated for his son and another new house for himself. The had a big barn and milking complex, three big tractors, a hefty Volvo digger, one new German combined harvester, seed planters, complex ploughs, and hay bundlers and many other expensive machines lined up in another hanger!
He said that he had no debt and that they are able to buy this costly equipment and spare parts at reduced prices when they drive over to Germany to attend agricultural exhibitions. Their attitude to work is that 7 days a week are just enough to get all the work done with two weeks each year for vacation in the countryside!
The wine maker neighbour also confirmed that there is plenty of work to be done on the land and around the home. He was producing top quality wine that sold out each year at an average price of €8 a bottle. He has customers coming to visit his vineyard from all over the world. His house was a showpiece in traditional Slovenia elements. It was not grand but it was solid, clean and on top of a hill overlooking the vines!