Wednesday, September 24, 2008
The IFAJ held its congress in Austria and Slovenia earlier this month, and boy what a fun time we had.
Those of us with a stronger constitution also went on the pre-congress tour to Slovakia organised by the wonderful Jana Janku. It proved a real eye-opener, as my impression of Slovakia was wholly at odds with reality.
I imagined it as still being somewhat behind in terms of agriculture. What we saw, however, was a country at the cutting edge of technology, managed well and with the very latest kit.
From our base in Bratislava we visited several farms, a wine cellar and met the country's new agriculture minister. There was also an afternoon in a spa. I could have gone for a mud bath, but declined; my figure has been honed after years of endeavour and eating Scotland.
Best bit proved the speed beer drinking competition, ably won by Britain and the Netherlands. Howard Venters went on to win the individual contest, although as the second placed competitor I have to point out that a considerable quantity of beer ended up on his shirt.
You might want to read more about Slovakia here: http://www.pressandjournal.co.uk/Article.aspx/832049
From Bratislava it was onwards to Graz for the IFAJ congress proper. We had an amazing time in Austria.
Well done to Katie Lomas, of Farmers Guardian, for winning an IFAJ young journalist placement and to Jonathan Page, of Farmers Weekly, for a commendation in the IFAJ star prize photography competition. Freelance John Eveson went one better than Jonathan and won one of the Star prize sections with an absolutely amazing picture of dairy cattle. Well done John and thanks for ensuring Britain's reputation in this contest is maintained. The photography contest has taken a significant step forward in terms of entries with more than 100 forward this year. You can see them all on the IFAJ website at www.ifaj.org
Graz was an amazingly historical city and the dinner on our first night was held in the beautiful old university building. The ceiling was most ornate. The food too was rather good.
I did complain at the time about our walking tour before tour, but in hindsight I have to say thanks as it provided a wonderful insight into a city that has so many historic buildings.
I was most impressed with the tours we had in Austria. Guild secretary Don Gomery and I did the mountain tour; the scenery was outstanding and the farms we visited truly interesting. They shared many similarities with Scotland, but the scenery was entirely different. Whether Austrian or Scottish though they shared the same problems in trying to make ends meet from livestock production.
On our way to Slovenia we stopped off at the processing plant where they make the pureed fruit that is used in yoghurt and other dairy-type drinks. I've always wondered how the fruit was processed and now I know.
Slovenia again proved most interesting. Our first visit to a tourist farm was an eye-opener as the diversification there has been and the entrepreneurship. The bus had problems getting to the farm as there was only 7cm between the top of it and the motorway underpass we had to go through to get to it. The driver climbed up the scaffolding surrounding the underpass twice to check the bus would get through.
Included in the visits to Slovenia was an outing to the Lipica horse school. I'm not a great fan of horses, but I have to say I was impressed at the school, one of several Spanish riding schools in that part of the world, but apparently always in the shadow of the more famous facility in Vienna.
The disappointment was the gala dinner which turned out to be something of a damp squib because of rain.
Still we made the best of the evening and entertained ourselves.
I have to say the more I see the IFAJ in action the more I realise its importance. It is the best network you can imagine for meeting like-minded people and for building a network of contacts globally. It alone is worth every penny of the £52 that we pay in Britain for Guild membership. It is such a shame that so many members do not take part and realise that their membership opens doors globally and allows you to develop friendships with the most amazing people.
Enjoy the pictures. They tell the story far better than I can in words.