Winning the Battle with the Agri-Giant Next Door

Courtesy of Živá farma

Czech organic farmer Libor Kožnar has won his yearlong battle with Agrofert, the agribusiness empire operating next to his small holding. As Libor told us in an interview in February, he lost the organic certification for his wheat due to fertiliser drift from an Agrofert sprayer – and took a hard hit to his earnings as a result. Agrofert is a multimillion euro conglomerate with ties to the Czech prime minister, currently under investigation in a conflict of interest case by the European Commission. Libor, when we last spoke to him, had run out of cash to pay his farmhands. Last week the case was finally settled. And while he is pleased with the outcome, Libor notes that the victory is bittersweet.

It’s been a long 12 months on Živá farma – the “living farm”, a smallholding in South Moravian wine country where Libor Kožnar grows organic wheat, fruit and vegetables. Only a year after Libor started farming on this land, Agrofert moved in next door. Fertiliser is big business for the Agrofert conglomerate (the clue’s in the name) and Libor’s new neighbours were soon spraying NPK nitrogen fertiliser dangerously close to his field, he told ARC2020 in an interview earlier this year. At one point the NPK drifted about five metres onto his field of organic wheat. As a result he lost his organic certification for the land parcel, and a sizeable chunk of his earnings on the contaminated crop.

Life is thriving as the Living Farm puts a difficult year behind it. Image courtesy of Živá farma

Final payout

Libor made a claim for compensation through the Czech agricultural inspection authority (ÚKZÚZ). He alleges that Agrofert embarked on a year-long campaign of aggressive and unfair pressure tactics to get him to concede to a minimal settlement. Instead of bowing to the pressure, he fought and managed to increase the initial offer of under 16% of damages to a final payout of 45% of the damages, Živá farma announced in a press release last week.

All along Agrofert refused to pay any compensation unless Živá farma first signed a secrecy clause. Ultimately Libor and his legal team succeeded in having this clause removed from the final settlement. Which leaves him free to share his story – a cautionary tale for the wider public.

Despite having lost the case, Agrofert continues to claim that windy conditions may well be to blame for the contamination of Libor’s wheat. “The GPS records show our tractor stayed more than 15 metres away from the boundary of the fields, while the spreading radius is 13.5 metres,” Agrofert’s press spokesperson Karel Hanzelka told news server Seznam. “It is also important that Mr Kožnar did not inform us in advance that his land was organically farmed. We apologized to Mr Kožnar and subsequently paid him compensation for the damage,” stated the spokesperson. He explained that Agrofert staff have been given training to prevent such an incident from reoccurring, and the sprayer has been fitted with a drift guard.

Bittersweet victory

The victory is bittersweet for Libor Kožnar. Agrofert was found by the agricultural inspection authority (ÚKZÚZ) to be in breach of the Czech Republic’s legislation on fertiliser. But because the case was settled out of court, the authority will stop short of imposing a fine, spokesperson Ivana Kršková told Seznam.

“The reality is that disputes like ours are settled out of court,” Libor notes. “Because we were forced into an out of court settlement, Agrofert will not be fined, and any other farmers who find themselves in the same situation will still lack the legal protection they deserve.” Secrecy clauses are also the norm, according to Libor. He had trouble finding a specialised lawyer who would dare to take on the case. He frames the issue in the context of his country’s totalitarian past: 30 years after the Velvet Revolution, the Czech Republic still lacks the legal clout to protect victims, he complains. Farmers and local authorities are battling stray sprayers every day of the year. “We see this victory as a small loss for all of us.”

Ivana Kršková, the spokesperson for the inspection authority, stated that farmers enjoy a number of legal protections under Czech law and can claim damages in the civil courts.

Living Farm versus the “Agro-Terminator”. Image courtesy of Živá farma

Agro-Terminator: the battle continues

Libor may have won this compensation case, but the saga continues. One literal battleground is the mud road that defines the border between the two farms. On March 19 he staged a “direct action” to block Agrofert machinery from ploughing the contentious terrain. According to Libor, Agrofert’s tractors blindly follow a route determined by GPS and LPIS — with scant regard for the true boundaries of the fields.

Libor describes his battle in epic terms: a victory for Mother Earth and the Living Farm over the “Agro-Terminator” and the “chemical world of robots”. As he concludes: “Živá farma will carry on doing what is right by Mother Earth”.

More on the Czech Republic

Trouble With The Neighbours: Living Next Door to an Agri-Giant

Bad Czechs and Balances: Commission Audit Confirms Czech PM in Conflict of Interest

Czech Republic | PM Babiš’ Chickens Coming Home to Roost?

Czech Republic | “No Forests, No Water, No Future” – Part I: Bugs in the Ecosystem

Czech Republic | “No Forests, No Water, No Future” – Part II: Moving On from Monocultures

Community Supported Agriculture in the Czech Republic

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About Louise Kelleher 41 Articles

Louise Kelleher is Communications Officer for ARC2020. She is also a freelance translator, editor, writer and storyteller, and wrote her MA thesis on postcolonialism in translation (Dublin City University 2006). An Irish emigrant in rural Bohemia, Louise is interested in re-establishing connections with food and nature. She loves helping farmers tell their stories via the Letters From The Farm series and is part of ARC2020's new project to build rural resilience in France.

A propos de Louise Kelleher

Louise est chargée de communication chez ARC2020. Grace à son parcours dans la communication interculturelle, elle assurera le lien entre la France et le reste de l’Europe dans le cadre du projet « Nos Campagnes en résilience ». Irlandaise, elle a vécu un temps dans le sud de la France et en Espagne avant de repartir s’installer en Tchéquie. Elle habite dès lors dans un petit village dans la Bohême avec sa jeune famille. Diplômée d’un Master en traduction, elle a réalisé son mémoire sur la thématique de la traduction en littérature postcoloniale. En outre son regard décolonial se marie bien à l’approche de terrain du projet. Passionnée des expérimentations en résilience et en suffisance, Louise adore pouvoir amplifier les voix des acteurs qui poursuivent leur vision d’un avenir plus juste, en harmonie avec leur voisins – que ce soit les hommes, où bien la nature. Elle s’intéresse fortement au (re-)tissage des liens entre l’alimentation et la nature. D’ailleurs chez ARC2020 Louise est responsable de la série « Les lettres de la ferme » qui permet de raconter le vécu des producteurs d’alimentation durable partout en Europe. Ainsi elle invite tout producteur-conteur de lui rejoindre pour partager son histoire dans cette série qui pousse rapidement !