Written by: Tim Baye, Co-Chair, Leadership Wisconsin 2018 Croatia Seminar
Agrarian roots. A history tied to the development of farming. Diversified production, with strong ties to livestock agriculture. Sound familiar? Well, such is the shared history of Wisconsin and Slavonia, the most eastern region of Croatia.
Slavonia is Croatia’s breadbasket. The counties of Osijek-Baranja, Brod-Posavina, Požega-Slavonia, Virovitica-Podravina and Vukovar-Srijem roughly make up the region (boundaries are always of dispute in places with colorful histories). Corn, wheat, soybeans, oats, rapeseed, forages. Approximately 50% of the tillable land, and by far the best ground, is home to this region. Much of the country’s cattle, poultry and a majority of the pork are produced here. Adding to the conventional agricultural base are robust forestry, fruit (trees) and vineyard sectors. Red wines compliment the dominant white wine production, with some producers creating internationally recognized premium vintages.
The wines from the coast are dominated by red wine production. The Zinfindel grape is native to the Dalmacija coast. The islands are known for the special Plavac grape. Each county, and municipality tends to claim fame from the local, preferred grape. Families jealously protect their own vineyards. Seeing grape vines towering the fences between houses is not uncommon. By now, you sort of sense this is a “special” attraction for me?
Truth be told, it is very special. I have been known to bring “bubble-wrap” with me from Wisconsin (can’t seem to find it there…in the past). I have purchased a suitcase, filled it with my favorites and added that to my checked luggage for the return voyage. Just sayin….
Where Slavonia, and much of the remainder of Croatia’s agriculture differs from Wisconsin is the concentration of land ownership/control and the degree to which production/processing/ distribution is integrated. Nearly 80% of productive lands are controlled by two companies: Agrokol and Zito. These are vertically integrated companies, with Agrokol by far the larger and more vertically integrated of the two. From field production to the grocery stores. Agrokol has recently been in the news regarding accusations and indictments related to influence within the government. Zito has invested heavily in modern processing facilities, with the intent of aggressively competing in the EU markets.
Another contrast is the role of family gardens. As we travel through the country-side, you will notice intensive small-scale farming either extending back from individual residences or grouped together in plots near the village. Much of the fresh food production occurs in these family plots. Some of which you will taste in our daily meals or see offered in the local markets.
Yes, my fascination with food and drink is not very well hidden. What can you expect from a Wisconsin farm-boy?