Agriculture comprises around 23% of the Turkish economy. Approximately 3.5 million farmers look after 20 million ha of productive land. Average farm size is around 60 decare [a unit of surface measure equal to 10 acres, or 1000 square meters: equivalent to 0.2471 acre]
Wheat is the most widely grown commodity, but milk is the most valuable. “If your most valuable product is wheat, that’s a sign that you’re an ‘old’ agricultural country,” says İsmail Ugural, an agricultural media commentator. “The country has entered a more modern phase now.”
There’s been massive change in Turkish society, economy, politics and culture over the last 70 years. Around 15-20 million people have come out of agriculture since the 1940s, moving to urban centres and causing rural depopulation. No other European country has witnessed such profound changes in the last 70 years, so Turkey faces great challenges in how it manages and responds to this phenomenon.
The Turkish Government is firmly committed to agriculture, viewing it as a strategic industry. The sector provides 6.1% of GDP, a figure that’s risen 40% since the turn of the century. Turkey is now the world’s seventh-biggest agricultural producer and intends to be amongst the top five producers by 2023.
To achieve this goal, the government has enacted a National Agricultural Project to support and grow the sector, through crop diversification and improved productivity. Worth approximately US$4bn annually, the initiative divides the country into 941 agricultural basins (according to climate and soil type), with each basin allocated specific crops from a strategic list of 19.
While wheat and forage crops will be subsidised in every basin, one of the plan’s objectives is to reduce the planted area of water-intensive crops in drought-prone areas. Thus, the government will only provide support to farmers who grow crops that are on the recognized list for their basin.
Furthermore, the Turkish grain board has signalled that it will not procure crops if they are not on the list for the specific basin – which will likely influence farmers’ planting decisions.
Turkey also has three distinct climates so different regions suit particular crops. Turkey is the leading producer in cherry, figs, hazelnut and apricots. Pome, stone fruits and vegetables are also very important beside cereal production.
Farming is still a family business, passed on from parents and grandparents, although a portion of the younger generation is migrating to the big cities. Farming in many regions is still being done traditionally but young farmers are interested in introducing technology to their businesses and are looking for alternative crops to grow.