Take it away from your enemies and give it to your friends: The Hungarian agricultural law

You may have noticed that I rarely touch upon topics relating to agriculture. First, because I don’t know much about it and second, because I have bad memories of poverty-stricken southern Baranya County villages from my childhood. When my grandfather died and my father inherited a sizable farm, he decided to prepare his only child to be a future landowner. At the age of twelve I was required to learn how to grow various grains and vegetables. One week corn, the next week rye. It was loads of fun. In later years as high school students we were forced to spend at least two weeks during the summer hoeing cotton plants. Back breaking work for city girls. All in all, agriculture and I didn’t mix well.

Yet here is this new agricultural law before parliament which at first glance has the same effect on me as my early encounter with the Hungarian countryside: outrage. As I started to learn something about this new law, my free spirit revolted: what do you mean that I couldn’t buy land if I were crazy enough to want to do so? How can it be that even if I met the stringent requirements for land purchase the state could still interfere in a private transaction between the seller and the buyer? The state can decide whether it wants me to buy the land or not. Depending on whether the powers-that-be like me or not. How can that be legal? What kind of nonsense is this?

Yes, it is nonsense but it will be law soon. There is a lot of talk about preventing foreigners from acquiring Hungarian agricultural land, but the fact is that in the long run preventing it is almost impossible. At the time of Hungary’s accession to the European Union Hungary received “derogation” of the union law that allows the purchase of agricultural lands across borders. That derogation would have expired in 2010 but the Bajnai government asked for an extension. The final touches on the negotiations fell to the Orbán government. Hungary received another four years of respite from foreign land purchases that will expire in May 2014.

The new law on agriculture restricts the size of land holdings and sets stringent requirements as to who can purchase land in the first place. Let’s start with the latter. The law uses a somewhat old-fashioned word for “farmer.”  In the old days “paraszt”  (peasant) was widely used, but ” paraszt”  also has the connotation of  an ill-mannered boor and therefore there is a tendency to avoid it. Instead, especially before 1945, the word used in more genteel company was ” földműves,”  cultivator of the land. But lately one most often hears about “gazda ~ gazdák (farmer, smallholder) so I was surprised to hear that I would have to be a ” földműves” in order to own land. And not just any old “földműves”  but someone with a secondary education in agriculture (középfokú szakképesítés). No wonder that Béla Turi-Kovács, Fidesz MP and a lawyer who owns 50 hectares of agricultural land, suggested that perhaps “elementary education”  in agriculture would suffice, adding that maybe already in elementary school children could start learning something about growing corn. My father was ahead of his time!

The only exception to this “földműves” rule is land acquired by inheritance. However, there are some diehards in Fidesz who don’t like this exception. According to them, only those people should own land who will cultivate it. As usual, the Orbán government favors the churches in this law: although churches cannot purchase land, they can inherit it or receive it as a gift. Like in the Middle Ages. The happy “földműves” who manages to get some land must live within a twenty-kilometer radius from his landholding. The only exception is for farms specializing in animal husbandry. I guess we can call that exception the Lex Csányi, named after the billionaire CEO of OTP whose company, Bóly Zrt., owns 20,000 hectares and a large cattle farm.

Now we can move on to the size of the landholdings. An “őstermelő” can own a maximum of 50 hectares. An őstermelő seems to be someone who has no employees and who grows most of his crop for his own use or for selling it locally at farmer’s markets. Then there is the individual entrepreneur (egyéni vállalkozó) who can own up to 300 hectares. Third, there is the family holding (családi gazdaság) that can have between 50 and 500 hectares but with close relatives can go up to 1,200 hectares. I would call that law Lex Mészáros after the mayor of Felcsút and the director of Orbán’s favorite Puskás Football Academy. The extended Mészáros family has about 1,200 hectares.

There is another category and that is the “agricultural company,” which can lease land. The size of the holdings depends on the number of people employed by the company. With ten employees the firm can lease only 300 hectares and for 1,200 hectares one needs 100 employees. Interesting! A family of five or six people can own 1,200 hectares but if the land is not held by an individual but by an agricultural company then this firm needs 100 employees to cultivate the same amount of land.

György Raskó, an MDF member of parliament in the 1990s and an expert on agriculture who has a fairly large farm, considers this new law a disaster. To him it is clear that the government wants to break up the existing well functioning large farms and give the land to its own clientele. Most of these larger farms lease the land for 20-25 years, after which the state can simply take the land back from them. Those who received land in this way in the last few years are relatively secure, but there are many whose lease is up in the near future. According to Raskó that may mean about 150,000 hectares per year. Altogether larger farms currently own about 1.5 million hectares. These people put a considerable amount of money into modern equipment and therefore, although they might receive some compensation, their financial loss will be considerable. Raskó claims that the change in the current law will mean a loss of one billion euros to the Hungarian agricultural sector.

An editorial in Népszabadság claims that the new law creates a chaotic situation because the law tries to satisfy two contradictory demands. On the one hand, there is a group of hungry Fidesz supporters who want their share of the national wealth and, on the other, there are Orbán’s old friends, Sándor Csányi of OTP with his cattle farm and Zsolt Nyerges with thousands and thousands of acres, who don’t want to lose their investments. So, what does one do in a case like that? In order to satisfy the first group without injuring the second the government will most likely ruin those large landowners who are not considered to be friends of the regime. So, claims the author of the article, the government will ruin well run and profitable large farms and give them away to small farmers without the necessary capital or expertise. That’s where we stand now.

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LwiiH
Guest

And you want to know why German farm products are cheaper than products produced in the country…. I suspect Széchenyi is rolling in his grave!

bernard de raadt
Guest

Give land back to the original owners they will know what to do with it and no governement intervetion will happen . in spanish they say ladron que roba a ladron 1000 años de perdon

Member

Bernadette :
Give land back to the original owners they will know what to do with it and no governement intervetion will happen . in spanish they say ladron que roba a ladron 1000 años de perdon

Yeah. Never mind the laws … By the way who do you think the thief is in this context?

Paul
Guest

So now Orbán Mugabe Viktor?

Paul
Guest

Just assuming it was possible to trace the original owners of land from 70 years ago, and just suppose it was then possible to accurately tie up the land and owners. And then, in this fairy-land world, let’s suppose further that it would be a simple and inexpensive operation to take that land away from its current owner(s) and give it back to the descendents of it’s ‘rightful’ owner…

What exactly do you think they would do with all this land? They haven’t farmed it for 70 years, no one in their family has the faintest idea of how to farm it. They would sell it.

And who would they sell it to?

petofi
Guest

Paul :
So now Orbán Mugabe Viktor?

Ain’t that the truth!
We are known by the people we emulate: so far, Viktor has given us a smattering of Ceausescu, Hitler, and now Mugabe. But I suspect…that he is a close follower of Putin.

pusztaranger
Guest

Give land back to the original owners they will know what to do with it

Sure. Like those disowned 1939, whose land was given to the Knightly order of Vitéz and who were later deported by the Hungarian authorities.
http://epa.oszk.hu/00000/00018/00012/07tatrai.htm
“The Knightly Order of Vitéz, established on the basis of landed property as a reward of military virtue, was founded by Miklós Horthy in 1920. With its foundation, the aim of Horthy was to create a stratum of small and medium landowners, loyal to the political system, and to enlarge his social basis.”
http://epa.oszk.hu/00000/00018/00012/index.htm

Sound familiar somehow?

petofi
Guest
Eva S. Balogh : Off topic but I recommend it everybody who knows Hungarian. István Tarlós, mayor of Budapest, was Olga Kálmán’s guest today on “Egyenes beszéd.” This is how a Hungarian “gentleman” behaves. And a Hungarian “politician”behaves! he announced that Olga Kálmán’s IQ is too low to understand his words. What I don’t understand why they keep inviting these characters back. Politicians in other countries are happy if they get invited by the members of the media while in Hungary they behave like this. Here is the link; http://atv.hu/cikk/video-20121018_tarlos_istvan I disagree with you on this, Eva. I saw the program and Tarlos answered quite diplomatically Olga’s strenuous efforts to reveal some rupture between Fidesz politicians at the civic level and Tarlos. He neatly side-stepped her queries…several times. She wouldn’t give up. Finally, he said that she has done this same sort of prodding attack for two years and that he is tired of it. I thought he was within his rights. She persisted. He said he might walk out, but didn’t. Still she went on with her harangue. I don’t think he’ll go back on her program me for quite a while. Oddly enough, Olga got similar treatment from… Read more »
cheshire cat
Guest
This interview with Tarlos is sickening – I’m gasping. I have to say, that up to a point, neither of them were behaving professionally. Olga should have let Tarlos speak and think twice before she comments, especially as the conflict was getting more heated. She kept on interrupting him and, strangely, kept on flirting with him, which provoked him even more. But Tarlos ‘s behaviour is shocking. He is definitely not up to the task of being a mayor, his nerves clearly can’t cope with it, and he keeps taking everything personally. He is one of those “victim-style”, immature and paranoid Hungarian leaders who always complain that others criticise them and have different ideas. I have a feeling that these two either know each other quite well personally or they like each other. Or maybe he had made it clear to her before that he likes her as a woman, which has encouraged her flirting. Somehow they kept falling out of their roles as a journalist and politician, they were simply being “too personal”. It was also Olga’s fault that she let the interview slip out of her hands, however Tarlos’s behaviour towards the end was totally unacceptable. I might… Read more »
Pete H.
Guest

Yes give the land back to its old owners. Before they fled at the end of WWII, my family owned a hemp factory and the land to produce the hemp in Baja. I’d hire with an affirmative action policy and 30% of my workers would be Roma. I think I’ll plant fruit orchards and distill Palinka. Sound good Bernard?

Maybe Fidesz can try and grow rice and oranges on the Hortobágyi plains. It would be as logical as this new law.

Lutra lutra
Guest

Implementing land reform and maximising the productive use of farmland is great in principle but this approach seems to defy logic. Without an effective way of getting European-quality products to market at a competitive price (and producers getting a decent return on their investment for it), any kind of land reform is futile and Orbán’s “blood and soil” posturing will just alienate the rest of Europe still further.

Where is the money going to come from to modernise agriculture? Is Fidesz, with its hatred of anything that smacks of the socialist era, going to sponsor the creation of cooperatives to organise the marketing and distribution of agricultural produce?

GW
Guest

Let’s be clear here. The intention is not only to create a small class of landed gentry, but to make serfs, knechts, tenant farmers, or even sharecroppers out of the local populations, the people who have actually worked those fields for generations. That’s how much Fidesz really loves the Hungarian people.

petofi
Guest

GW :
Let’s be clear here. The intention is not only to create a small class of landed gentry, but to make serfs, knechts, tenant farmers, or even sharecroppers out of the local populations, the people who have actually worked those fields for generations. That’s how much Fidesz really loves the Hungarian people.

Precisely.

I don’t know how anyone can mistake Orban for a
‘reformer’. He’s a thief, several times over (that’s only considering his present 2-year tenure)–a man who has the nerve to set up a ‘soccer academy’ for $500 and then have the government dole out $30 million in development money into it. I’d like to see him defend that (yet, I’ve not heard one journalist post a query to him!)

hunleonidas
Guest

Reblogged this on hungarianvirus.

cheshire cat
Guest

@Lutra lutra

“Without an effective way of getting European-quality products to market at a competitive price (and producers getting a decent return on their investment for it), any kind of land reform (…) will just alienate the rest of Europe still further.”

Precisely.
Not to mention the fact all the farms will go bankrupt and that would end Hungarian agriculture for a while.

For competitive and modern agriculture you need investment, innovation, expertise.

petofi
Guest

cheshire cat :
@Lutra lutra
“Without an effective way of getting European-quality products to market at a competitive price (and producers getting a decent return on their investment for it), any kind of land reform (…) will just alienate the rest of Europe still further.”
Precisely.
Not to mention the fact all the farms will go bankrupt and that would end Hungarian agriculture for a while.
For competitive and modern agriculture you need investment, innovation, expertise.

Let’s not forge to mention ‘size’–too small the farm, and machinery becomes too expensive
and the yield value will drop. It’s pure nonsense, in the 21st century, to give the land over to small farms as if we lived in the 18th.

On the other hand, the big farms seem, presently, to be in the hands of oligarchal-types who are there to get their ‘developmental money’ from the EU (which, of course, they pocket straightaway).

Give a Hungarian a chance, and his mind will tend to con-artistry immediately. It’s in the jeans.

petofi
Guest

This is somewhat tangential to the discussion but does pertain to ‘development’ in Hungary…it’s regarding the Hungarian Kayak Association asking the Serbs to pay $150,000 to authorize the move of Natasa Janics to Serbia.

Is this standard procedure in the world of sport?
I’ve never heard of a Canadian Olympic Athlete moving to another country and the Canadian Association asking for any money.

Seems like another disgusting example of Hungarian
greed-grab…

cheshire cat
Guest

Recent development in the Tarlos- Kalman affair:

http://atv.hu/belfold/20121019_tarlos_kalman_olgatol_a_notol_elnezest_kerek

Tarlos apologized to Olga “as a woman” but not to her as a journalist.
He said “I simply didn’t allow her to humiliate me like she does to other right wing politicians”

The quality of public affair discussions in Hungary has long gone to the dogs due to the miserable state of everything being “this side or that side”.
So scandals like this are inevitable and will keep on happening, unless people sober up.

Opposition parties and the Hungarian Journalists Association have all protested about the interview.

Mark
Guest

I wonder what effect this will have on the “weekend farmers” who have their long, narrow little plots often some distance from their city dwelling. There are still many of these plots here in Fot where I live on the northern boundary of Budapest.

cheshire cat
Guest

Petofi, you mean in the genes?
I disagree. It is learnt bad behaviour.

You are right when you say

“Let’s not forge to mention ‘size’–too small the farm, and machinery becomes too expensive
and the yield value will drop. It’s pure nonsense, in the 21st century, to give the land over to small farms as if we lived in the 18th. “

Member

cheshire cat :
Recent development in the Tarlos- Kalman affair:
http://atv.hu/belfold/20121019_tarlos_kalman_olgatol_a_notol_elnezest_kerek
Tarlos apologized to Olga “as a woman” but not to her as a journalist.
He said “I simply didn’t allow her to humiliate me like she does to other right wing politicians”

We should follow suit. I apologize to Mr Tarlos “the man”, but I’d like to emphasize that as a politician he is still a 4 star asshole.

Pete H.
Guest

Where I live, western Massachusetts, there are small farms that do very well by growing speciality crops (tomatillos, heirloom tomatoes, asparagus, regional varieties of apples, etc.). There are also small farms run as organic farm shares. But, you can only have a moderate percentage of the landscape in these types of operations because the market for these crops and people interested in buying shares is limited. There are also many medium sized farms growing staple crops like corn, potatoes, and squash. And a few large ones doing the same. It would be useful to see an analysis of how this law is predicted to change the mix of farms of different sizes. The assumption here seems to be that it will disproportionately create small parcels. If the mix is right it might work. Anybody crunch the numbers yet?

What is most objectionable about this law is the idea that it could become a form of political patronage.

spectator
Guest

Size matters?
Maybe worth to remember, that the Hungarian agriculture were the most effective when it was worked on industrial scale – before they attempted to re-privatize, cutting to hundred little pieces with hundred individual little owners, in the name of ‘historical justice’.

While nobody can argue with the fact, that it was a just action – I don’t intended to go into those parts which was not – the only sensible solution would have been to convert the collective farms to cooperatives, or whatever form was best, and give the people shares in relation to their original ownership, and let them continue to be one of the leading agricultural entity in the region.

Of course, it would have been a clear capitalist move, and wouldn’t be consistent with the pathetic, nostalgia-ridden approach of the conservatives then, but it may have worked.

Now, in order to reach a productivity level of the ‘communist’ era, the present government aiming to go back to feudalism – with quite a good chance to get there.

Brave new world!

Guest

I may have posted this success story before: http://www.vetterhungary.hu/index.php

This is aGerman family company in Csengele that started in 1993 selling Asparagus (the sandy ground of the Puszta must be perfect for this) and then expanded …

My favourite product are the “Pimientos tipo Padron”, but it seems they only export them to Germany – at 10 € a kilo they’re probably too expensive for Hungarians, but worth every Cent!

Pete and spectator are correct – with some products it takes size, but there are also niches for exclusive products like “Bio-anything” …

Another success story is my neighbour’s son in law. After the end of “socialism” he got from his father and father in law one million HUFeach (quite a sum at that time) and bought some old machines of the local “TSZ” and over the years modernized, reinvesting every Forint …

Now after more than 20 years he’s doing ok with some modern machines, last year wasn’t so good, but this year prices for sunflower, wheat etc seem to rise so he will be ok I think.

Member
I don’t know much about this stuff either. This agriculture thing always sounded like … work to me. I would rather stick with my keyboard. But. I married into a rich farmer family in the 80s. Yes, during the ancient regime. They were doing extremely well from the grace of Kadar (see also “goulash communism”). Today in the “destroyed Hungarian agriculture” the family is still wealthy. Who knows, this may have something to do with hard work, but I’m not an expert. I had to impress my in-laws a few times with my skills on the land and that usually didn’t work out very well for me. What I hated the most was the peanut harvest. But I digress. I don’t think the problem is who owns the land. The problem is the extremely low productivity of the Hungarian agriculture. Compared to western European countries our agricultural export is a lot lower than countries that have a lot less cultivated land. Again, I don’t know nothing about it, but to me it seems this is because the FIDESZ is pushing this romantic “traditional” model (remember the one house – one sow idea) instead of modern cooperatives. Another idiotic time travel… Read more »
LwiiH
Guest

Eva S. Balogh :
Off topic but I recommend it everybody who knows Hungarian. István Tarlós, mayor of Budapest, was Olga Kálmán’s guest today on “Egyenes beszéd.” This is how a Hungarian “gentleman” behaves. And a Hungarian “politician”behaves! he announced that Olga Kálmán’s IQ is too low to understand his words.
What I don’t understand why they keep inviting these characters back. Politicians in other countries are happy if they get invited by the members of the media while in Hungary they behave like this. Here is the link;
http://atv.hu/cikk/video-20121018_tarlos_istvan

OV did that to a Hungarian reported in Luxembourg..

LwiiH
Guest

petofi :
This is somewhat tangential to the discussion but does pertain to ‘development’ in Hungary…it’s regarding the Hungarian Kayak Association asking the Serbs to pay $150,000 to authorize the move of Natasa Janics to Serbia.
Is this standard procedure in the world of sport?
I’ve never heard of a Canadian Olympic Athlete moving to another country and the Canadian Association asking for any money.
Seems like another disgusting example of Hungarian
greed-grab…

It’s done for Jr. hockey players moving to the NHL. It’s called paying for player development

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