Wierzbno mushroom farm is one of the most modern in Poland. The owners are the members of Jachimowicz family. The first facility – of Miroslav who is the father of the family – has 30 growing rooms by 540 m2 each. It was started in 2003. The second facility – of his daughter Natalia – has another 30 rooms of 580 m2, it was built in 2013. Wierzbno farm employs about 200 workers. 25 tons of white button mushrooms are produced per day here. Six-week cycle is applied.
UMDIS agency gladly accepted the invitation from the Miroslav Jachimowicz`s family to see the farm and share the experience with mushroom growers around the world.
– Miroslav, firstly tell us how did you get into mushroom business?
– Accidentally. Although previously I was a little connected with the rural business. I am electronics engineer by profession. After university, I went to work to a large corporation that produced tape recorders. Then I went to the army – at that time it was mandatory in Poland. My father had already passed away so the family rural business was handled by my grandfather, he was 80 years old, – explains the owner Miroslav while we stand at the entrance of the farm and feed the big, beautiful fish in the pool.
Grandfather Boleslav was born in 1899 and fought in three wars. He grew up here in Wierzbno, had a large family with eight children. When he was 16, the First World War began – he ran away from home to the front. In order to be accepted, he said that he was 18. Then he fought in the Polish–Soviet War, next in the Second World War. All the time he was engaged in business: he kept a store, built houses, was engaged in agriculture – while temporary giving work to people in the neighborhood.
When the Russians came, they put him in “kulaks” list – because he had 20 hectares of land. So grandpa had to pay for his children to study at school, and they were not allowed to go to the university.
In 1979, I took over from my grandfather our land, also two cows, one pig and a dog. The pig was very smart, walked inside our house. I gave her a name – Machiek. When Machiek weighed 150 kilograms, we got a problem. She still wanted to come home – however turned everything upside down. I couldn’t eat the pig of course, because we usually don’t eat friends. So, I sold it with a heavy heart. That time I realized that I will not grow animals – somehow, I get very friendly with them – and the business will not work out for me.
At that time, a neighbor came and told me that his father-in-law grows mushrooms and offered me to do a joint mushroom business. This was my first acquaintance with mushrooms. It didn’t work out with that neighbor – he is now successfully dealing with cows. And I started – and got stuck in the mushroom business. Together with my brother, and now with my daughter and sons.
We enter the mushroom farm and see a very long corridor, 250 meters – the longest in Poland according to Miroslav. 10 rooms are loaded in Wierzbno per week: two rooms each Monday-Friday. Compost is purchased from Karol Kania and Lemany. Compost is ordered without supplements. Here ground corn from a local supplier is added – 18 kilograms per ton of compost.
Two technologists work on the farm – the rooms are divided equally between them. There is also a third person – production manager Lukash, whose duties include the morning rounds together with the technologist. Lukash does not have a casting vote. The main purpose of his participation in the tour is to provoke the technologist into a discussion, to ask why exactly it should be done like this. So the technologist thinks about it once more and can change the decision to a more suitable one.
The technologist’s working hours are from 5 a.m. to 2 p.m. in those weeks when “his” rooms are loaded. And from 9 o’clock on other weeks.
We see very evenly pinned mushrooms on the shelves. We tell our opinion to the technologist Andrzej – he smiles. Miroslav says:
– We often do not need separation at all: the technologist manages the pining correctly. If necessary, thinning out needs to be done, removing excessively tied mushrooms. Of course, pickers do not like to do this – when they need – the technologist hides. But the pickers are tied for their shelves. Due to this, they understand that they are preparing their workplace to earn money on it tomorrow.
There are three picking supervisors at this facility – so six on the entire farm.
– This is not a production of brick – when you have a recipe and always goes the same way every day. Here everything depends on compost, casing soil, climate – that’s why we employ the best professionals who know how to analyze the situation on the shelf. We try to make it always optimal, – says the owner of the farm.
Wierzbno also has a few unusual professions or functions. For example, watering specialists – several experienced “Waterers” who come to work to water mushrooms. The technologist evaluates the compost, writes down how much to pour per day – and they know how to do it the best way.
– I also invented the function of a “growing room main girl” – in fact, this is not a job, but a social burden for one of the pickers in the brigade of each room. She is responsible for “the mood” in the group. She keeps a notebook in which she writes down which girl is responsible for which shelves. She makes a rotation so that if you collect from above in one room, you will collect on the lower shelves in the next one. But this is not a picking supervisor – the picking supervisor is separate and for several rooms. I introduced this system so that, in case of problem to solve, just one picker from each group would come to me – not all at once.
– And what is her motivation? – we ask Miroslav.
– Additional vacation payment. That payment is calculated at the end of the year, not in the summer as in many enterprises. Why? Because it used to be problem before Christmas – actually it would be the best if I pick all mushrooms at that time by myself because everyone wanted to go home. Therefore, this additional payment at our farm was postponed until after the New Year. Then the pickers want to do their work before the Holidays in order to get more. And then – when we issue this annual vacation payment – we pay double the rate to this “growing room main girl”. That is her motivation.
The mushroom accounting system assumes that each picker has its own number that it sticks to the tray – and then this number is scanned. There are several types of mushrooms.
– UK is the largest export client. We have mushroom type called “Export”. But not every “export” mushroom is a mushroom that really goes to be exported. An export mushroom is the one that is picked of the highest quality and the picker receives the highest rate for it. Next, mushroom A-B – is slightly tightened. A-B mushroom is an export mushroom, but which was managed to be collected three hours later. Pickers get less for it. Finally, a mushroom that was picked the next day – is a bad mushroom, and the picker gets only 50% of rate. The remuneration policy has been organized so that the higher income of the company translates into higher earnings of the pickers.
From the first flash, 18-19 kg/m2 are picked here. On the farm Miroslav tells us that 33-34 kg/m2 is normal to get from three flashes. Sometimes on the farm is collected 35-36 kg/m2, and if the client does not mind tight mushrooms with long stems, even 38 kg/m2. According to Miroslav, in Poland, 33kg/m2 is the limit of profitability of the mushroom business.
– Since the beginning of the farm operation, my brother has been in charge of sales, – says Miroslav. – He is sure that nothing can be thrown away. If there is a surplus to be sold, he prefers to sell it for 0.2 Euro per kilogram rather than to take it to some field and throw away. He says: you cannot waste your work. Therefore, for 40 years, nothing was thrown away, everything was sold.
Most growing rooms are controlled by LAB-EL controllers and sensors. At the beginning, first six rooms were built – not Fancom, but LAB-El was instuled. Then another six rooms – respectively the same supplier. When the farm became bigger and the next six rooms were being built, the owner decided to change the supplier, and chose Fancom. It was five times more expensive – but he installed it in six new rooms. Technologists are used to have various automation. When, in three years, they began to build the next facility of the daughter Natalia, Miroslav asked the technologists what to choose.
– They said in one voice: if you have too much money, you can pay for Fancom. However it doesn’t matter for us – tells Miroslav. – Although, from the perspective of time, I see that LAB-El requires more care, it is necessary to do service and calibrate the sensors more often. But technologists believe that LAB-El is simpler, and Fancom has so many functions that is only needed for experiments.
In Poland, as well as in all Europe, this year the means of production increased significantly. The prices of fuel and electricity increased, pushing inefficient and often small farms out of the market. But it is also difficult for large farms to cope with the prices of energy resources and other expenses.
The Jachimowicz family has an eco-friendly farm – taking care of the environment was an independent decision of the owners. Not every European farm cares about nature and resources in this way. But even such a modern farm is not easy to keep up with increased prices.
– From the first of June, we count every cubic meter of gas and kilowatt of electricity, – says the owner of Wierzbno mushroom farm.
Many farms in Poland have boiler rooms, and the smoke can be seen from afar. Here on the farm nobody heats with coal. They have heat pumps for this. The first pumps were installed in 2003 – when just a few people knew about such solutions. In 2012 and 2013, the owners transferred their experience to the new facility and made pumps already at the second facility. The cooling system is reversible. Gas is needed only for cook out.
However, it is impossible to predict everything. Mr. Miroslav says:
– Two years ago, there were price jumps, problems on the market, a pandemic – we decided to change LPG propane-butane gas to reduced natural LNG. You know what? Currently, LPG in Poland costs about 0.6 Euro, and LNG costs about 1.6 Euro. It has come to the point that we pay as much for the electricity of the entire facility as for gas, which we use very little – because we have heat pumps. We work on a signed agreement with the guild in Rotterdam. When the decision was made about gas – it cost 0.18 Euro – in two years the price increased to 1.6 Euro.
Electricity is produced here by solar panels that are set on the roofs of the farm and the dormitory. Solar panels work here. Heat pumps, ventilation, refrigerators, camera lighting and the entire hotel are powered by their own electricity.
We look at the analysis of the production and usage of own electricity – on the Miroslav`s phone.
– The sun doesn’t shine all year round – that’s why we usually have more of electricity in the summer. Although needs are higher in summer, there may be not enough energy in summer. For example, here, as we can see, on one of the days of May, 2,24 MWh were produced. But we are not given the right to sell electricity by giving it to the network – that’s why we see the line “lost electricity”. Of that 2,24 MWh that day, my daughter Natalia’s facility lost 520 KWh and my facility lost 275 KWh. Because it was cool in May so we did not require a lot of energy for cooling. This is stupid – our neighbor burns coal – and I have electricity, throw it away, but I do not have the right to sell it to him.
A few meters from the farm is a large hotel specially built for workers. At first, only Poles were hired on the farm – but ten years ago, when the family started building the first stage of the second facility, they could not gather a team from the surrounding area: there were not enough people. So they began to invite workers from other countries. Now, out of 200 employees, 80 are Ukrainians.
The hotel was built eight years ago. It has modern rooms with underground heating, a gym, bright design, paintings of mushrooms. There are four-bed and also two-bed rooms for families. In a four-person room, employees pay 60 Euro per month plus electricity and water used.
Each room has its own electricity and water meter – so a person pays nearly 10-16 Euro, which is very little for Polish realities – due to the environmental friendliness of the entire project. Having a electricity and water meter for each room makes people do not leave light and water on when they go to work.
– I wanted to build not an ordinary hostel – but a hotel. To make it a good advertisement of the mushroom farm and the mushroom industry. For example, each room in the hotel has its own terrace, – shows Miroslav when we enter the hotel.
– Come in, join us – invite us in Ukrainian pickers Vika, Vita and Tanya while sees us walking along the corridor with the owner of the farm. – We are eating Rafaelo sweets, nuts and drinking wine on the terrace! Miroslav did everything for us so that we could earn well and have a good rest.
Vika is a very good picker here. She can take in hand 1400 Euro income. A normal salary is 1000 Euro.
Miroslav is sure: nothing should be for free. Otherwise, nobody will appreciate it. Therefore, one wash in a washing machine costs 0.2 Euro. You throw a coin – the machine turns on. Symbolic payment – but it should be so that people do not bring one pair of underwear to be washed.
– This is important to make employees want to save water and eclecticity just like us, – says Miroslav. – At production, for example, we have a cook who prepares dinners and soups for workers. We put them in thermoses in the kitchen – employees can buy lunch at work – warm and healthy. But it is also not for free.
The hotel is managed by a retired Ukrainian army captain. He knows how to manage people like no one else – because he is a military man.
When we enter one of the rooms, we notice white blinds on the windows. Clean as new.
– Our people take care of this hotel as if they were their own – laughs Miroslav. – Because we care about them. Farm owners from America came to us to see. They were shocked. “What it is?” – they asked. I said: this is an ordinary hotel for workers in Poland. Our farm is 70 kilometers from the Warsaw capital city. If we did not take care of the workers, we would be left alone.
The main two things to achieve success according Miroslav and his daughter are to come to work with pleasure, and to make sure that your employees also come with a pleasure.
– This is my “recipe for success”, – says Miroslav.
At the end of the tour, we go to the office. There are awards.
We see many awards for Nordic walking.
– My wife is a master of sports, she wins competitions. And technologist Artur is the same very good.
– But this is your cup, dear Miroslav, – we say.
– If my wife is a master of sports, then I must at least pretend that I am doing something.
– But this is a cup for the first place.
– Yes, sometimes I succeed, – Miroslav Jachimovicz modestly smiles.