Farming and Management of Hay Meadows in Csík and Gyimes - Experiences from Social Research

Róbert BIRÓ1, László DEMETER2, Barbara KNOWLES3

1Pogány-havas Association, Miercurea Ciuc, Str. Szék nr.123, jud. Harghita, Romania
2Sapientia University RO – 530104, Miercurea-Ciuc, Piaţa Libertăţii nr. 1, jud. Harghita, Romania
3Pogány-havas Association, Miercurea Ciuc, Str. Szék nr.123, jud. Harghita, Romania

download pdf


hay meadows, milk price, Eastern Carpathians, agri-environment scheme, stock numbers, attitudes towards farming


Within a hay meadow research and conservation programme in the Eastern Carpathians of Romania, we conducted a sociological survey between January and March 2010 on the two demonstration sites of the project, Delne and Hidegség.

From the information gathered during this research our conclusions are:
• many farmers in the mountain village still hold on to traditional methods of farming, but there is an everyday struggle to keep this alive; while closer to the city, traditional farming is declining to a greater extent;
• the biggest challenge that farmers face is selling products.
If no viable solutions are found in this issue, traditional agriculture will continue to decline.


The hay meadow project run by the Pogány-havas (Pagan Snow Cap) Association aims to help the sustainable use of mountain hay meadows and thus to maintain high biodiversity, important ecosystem services and healthy local communities (Rodics and Knowles, 2011). Our project area is of exceptional natural value (see Csergő et al., 2011, Demeter et al., 2011). At present, there is a Special Protected Area on its central-western part, and several Sites of Community Interest (SCIs) in the neighbouring areas.

In order to assure a proper conservation status to this area, our team proposed a new SCI that covers most of the Ciuc Mountains (Csergő et al., 2011). The main habitat type of conservation interest in this area is mountain hay meadows, most of which are still managed using traditional practices. The viability of local communities and the continuation of traditional practices are of key importance from both cultural and nature conservation points of view. It is very important to document and preserve traditional knowledge on land management for many reasons: this provides habitat and landscape management on large scales, it is a reservoir of knowledge and skills forgotten in most of Europe during the 20th century, it provides healthy food and high resilience against global challenges such as climate change and economic crises.

The first step in understanding the relationship between man and natural resources and in planning any kind of intervention in the local society is to understand local economic and land use systems. The scientific literature about these topics in our study area is very deficient, although several large studies were conducted in the 1990s and early this decade (Gagyi 2007, Oláh 2004). Some official data exist on land use, total stock numbers and employment. In recent years, ethnogeobotanical studies conducted in this area revealed an outstanding local knowledge about plants and plant ecology (Molnár and Babai, 2011, Babai and Molnár, 2011). Studies linking sociology, rural landscape management and nature conservation are rare in the region (Sólyom 2009) and totally lacking in the studied areas.

The motivation for conducting a quick sociological survey was the creation of habitat management plans for two hay meadow sites, therefore our questions focused on local hay meadow management and traditional agricultural methods.

A secondary objective of the survey was to inform the farmers about the project, to delineate its objectives, achievements to date, give them the opportunity to take part in the project and inform them about existing agricultural schemes and subsidies.

Agricultural subsidies and grants

The intention of the subsidies and grants mentioned in this survey is to allow farmers to continue working in difficult economic circumstances, and to protect the environment in areas with high nature value, but many of our interviewees did not see them in this light (see also Péter, 2011). Since every farmer in this region is eligible for at least one type of payment they usually plan accordingly. In practice payments are received only after huge delays and this makes planning impossible. Moreover, farmers told us that they are not well informed. TV and radio provide some information, but as they realised afterwards, that information was not totally clear either.

The subsidies and grants are as follows:
-‘Land based’ subsidy is the Single Area Payment Scheme (SAPS) which is €80.36/hectare in 2010
-‘After animals’ subsidy is the payment farmers receive per animal (2009): 570 RON per cow if they have three or more cows. 40 RON/animal for at least 50 sheep or 25 goats.
- The agri-environment subsidy available in Harghita County is for High Nature Value Grasslands and has two packages: 1) basic HNV grasslands (€124/ha) and in addition 2) the traditional farming package (manual scything of the fields) for another €58/ha. (see Péter, 2011 for details).

The grant investigated in our survey is measure 1.4.1: Supporting semi-subsistent farming. This provides a payment for farms of at least two economic size units to expand their holding over a number of years. Whilst in the case of the three subsidies only a few forms have to be completed and signed, the process of application in Measure 1.4.1 is more complex. If a farmer wishes to receive money through this measure, he needs to do much more planning and paperwork which means that help from consultant organizations is indispensable.


Study area

Our project focused on the management and biodiversity of two contrasting regions of hay meadow: the Torda Valley near the village of Delne, and the Jávárdi Valley in Hidegség. Delne (Delniţa) lies in the Csík Basin (Depresiunea Ciucului) and is one of Csíkpálfalva (Păuleni Ciuc) municipality's three villages. The village is situated 5 km from the nearest town, Csíkszereda (Miercurea Ciuc). Hidegség (Valea Rece) is in Gyimesközéplok (Lunca de Jos) municipality which lies on the boundary of the Csík and Tarkő Mountains (Munţii Ciucului, Munţii Tarcău). These two villages have very distinct agricultural characteristics. The main difference is due to their geographical position and topography. Because Delne lies in a basin, with relatively large areas with low slope, at altitudes between 700-750 meters above sea-level, its lands are suitable for almost any kind of agricultural activity ranging from arable to livestock breeding, although the climate of the area is cold, partly because of temperature inversions that are typical for the basin (mean annual temperature 4-6oC, total annual precipitation 400-700 mm). Hidegség is in a mountain landscape with steep slopes and with altitudes between 900-1400 meters which means that agriculture there comprises mainly livestock breeding. There are very small parcels of arable land where the terrain is flatter. The climate of the inhabited valleys of this area is slightly warmer and wetter (mean annual temperature 6-7oC, total annual precipitation 700-1000 mm), See Demeter et al., 2011, for more details about the geography and climate of this area.

The meadows of the region are among the most botanically diverse in Europe (Csergő et al., 2011). Since all farmers mow two types of hay meadows we distinguished the inner hay meadow – the one that is close to the household – from the outer hay meadow which is far from the household, usually up in the mountains. Hidegség has another specific feature, namely that most of the pastures are privately owned. In Delne the pastures are common lands and are managed by a communal organization of Medieval origins called compossessorate (see Garda 2002).

Delne, being close to a town of 40,000 inhabitants, offers better access to markets and more opportunities for employment outside agriculture, than the more remote Hidegség.

Data collection

During the research we questioned 60 householders who own a hay meadow in our study sites, 24 in Delne and 36 in Hidegség. The interviewees were chosen randomly from a list of landowners that we received from the mayors’ offices, 137 for the Delne site and 165 for Hidegség. We questioned the head of the household, or if they were unavailable on two occasions we questioned their spouse.

Our questionnaire contained 38 questions. The main topics covered were: size of land owned and cultivated at present and 10 years ago, the process of mowing, general details about meadow management (timing, productivity, management activities), motivation and future plans related to farming, creating income from selling agricultural products, descendants’ attitude to farming and some other aspects including agro-tourism and subsidies.

In the survey we used open and closed questions as well as qualitative and quantitative questions.

Data analysis

We used SPSS Statistics software for data analysis.

This research is not representative for all the village population, because of the small number of farmers questioned. However, it represents around 20% of the landowners on each of our study sites. It provides data about the management of the selected meadow sites and an insight to the farming techniques used by people.

Because not every respondent answered each question, we include the number responding to each question where appropriate.

We present the data separately for the two villages, showing the differences between the two nearby areas, but also highlighting common aspects.


1. The farm and farmer
Amongst the people interviewed 86.7% were men and 13.3% women (Delne 91.7% and 8.3%, Hidegség 83.3% and 16.7%). Mean age of farmers was 55 years. (Delne 62, Hidegség 45 years). The average family had 3.8 members; 3.4 in Delne and 4 in Hidegség. (n = 24 Delne, n = 36 Hidegség).

Land size

The distributions of farm sizes in the two villages are shown in figures 1, 2 and 3. Mean area of hay meadow owned per farm was 3.87 hectares (Delne 2.90 ha, Hidegség 4.76 ha, n = 24 Delne, n = 33 Hidegség). The maximum hay meadow holding was 9.3 ha in Delne, and 16 ha in Hidegség. Mean size of arable land was 1.34 hectares (Delne 2.86 ha, Hidegség 0.19 ha, n = 24 Delne, n = 32 Hidegség). The maximum arable holding was 25 ha in Delne and 0.6 ha in Hidegség. The difference between the two villages is due to the topography of the two areas, see Introduction.

Since pastures are privately owned in Hidegség but not in Delne (see Introduction) we asked the farmers only in Hidegség how much pasture they have: 4.31 hectares on average; the maximum was 14 hectares (n = 15).

Fig. 1: The distribution of hay meadow sizes per farm in 2010.
n = 24 Delne, n = 33 Hidegség

Fig. 2: The distribution of arable land size per farm in 2010.
n = 24 Delne, n = 32 Hidegség

Fig. 3: The distribution of private pasture sizes per farm in Hidegség 2010. n = 15


Mean number of cows per farm is 3.9 (Delne 1.5, Hidegség 5.5, n = 23 Delne, n = 33 Hidegség). This average includes the eight farms in Delne which do not have a cow at all. As shown in Fig. 4 most farms in Hidegség have between 3 and 4 cows, but in Delne 1, 2 or none.

Fig. 4: Distribution of the number of cows per farm in 2010.
n = 23 Delne, n = 33 Hidegség

Data about other domestic animals is shown in Table 1. Although cows are the most economically important animal in the region because many farmers sell milk (see below), our data show that most farms keep a wide variety of animals, mainly for domestic use. It is frequently said in our study region that each household needs 10 chickens and a rooster, as shown by the data.

Delne n=24 Hidegség n=36
Mean Min Max Sum Mean Min Max Sum
Cows (15) 2.4 1 6 36 Cows (33) 5.5 1 20 182
Sheep (11) 7.2 2 12 80 Sheep (15) 5.6 3 13 85
Goats (1) 7 7 7 7 Goats (2) 1.5 1 2 3
Horses (5) 1 1 1 5 Horses (28) 1.6 1 3 46
Swine (15) 2 1 4 30 Swine (34) 2.8 1 15 98
Poultry (17) 10.6 5 20 181 Poultry (32) 11.2 3 22 359

Table 1: Average, min, max and total livestock in both villages (number in brackets = number of farms with this animal. The mean excludes respondents who had none of each animal)


Fourteen people had paid employment outside their smallholding at the time of the research, meaning that they were practicing farming outside working hours (Delne 6, Hidegség 8, n = 21 Delne, n = 25 Hidegség). Jobs included: nurse, clerk, factory worker, economist, ambulance driver, baker, educator, teacher, and dressmaker. Most (23 both, 14 Delne, 9 Hidegség) of the interviewees said that they are retired or without a job. Nine people identified themselves only as farmers, even if they had another job or a pension. We had expected that more people in Delne would have alternative employment than in Hidegség, given its proximity to the town. Maybe the older average age of people in the Delne sample can explain the results.

2. Farm management


85% of households cut the grass twice on the inner hay meadow and 97% of them mow only once on the outer hay meadow.

In most cases (73.5% of the total, n = 49) the first cut on the inner hay meadow is done in June and is finished by July. The second cut in 17.2% of the cases is done in July, but it usually takes place in August and September (82.8%). On the outer hay meadow the hay is made between July and September, but because of the climate and altitude, and because these outer meadows are rarely manured, there is no chance for a second good quality cut.

There is an obvious difference between the two villages. Fewer farmers start mowing in June in Hidegség, the second mow is done mainly in August and on the outer hay meadows some mow even in September (Table 2). The reason is a difference in climate and altitude, and the difference in the proportion of the inner and outer hay meadows. In Delne the inner hay meadows are larger sized and lower altitude (inner meadows 700-750 m, outer meadows 1000-1100 m, while in Hidegség the inner meadows are at 850-950 m, the outer meadows between 950-1300 m.

Delne Hidegség
Inner hay meadow Outer hay meadow Inner hay meadow Outer hay meadow
First mow Second mow First mow Second mow
June 87.0% 61.5%
July 13.0% 40.0% 60.0% 34.6% 34.5%
August 33.3% 40.0% 3.9% 75.0% 58.6%
September 26.7% 25.0% 6.9%
Total 100.0%
n = 23
n = 15
n =10
n = 26
n = 20
n = 29

Table 2: Mowing periods on the inner and outer hay meadows in the two villages

Mowing methods are relevant to the agri-environment subsidy available for those who manage meadows without machinery. From all the farmers, 35% mow using hand scythes exclusively, 36% a mowing machine and the rest use both methods. There is a big difference between the two villages (see fig. 5). In Delne 65.2% use a mowing machine, 17.4% hand scythe and 17.4% both methods, whereas in Hidegség only 16.7% use only mowing machinery, 47.2% hand scythes and 36.1% both methods combined. Again, the differences in the proportion of methods used can largely be explained by terrain. In the case of Delne, a larger proportion of the available land lies on a flatter surface, which makes the usage of machinery much easier, be it a large tractor or a small mower, whereas in Hidegség steep slopes make this in many cases impossible, although in recent years small mechanical hand mowers became widespread in this area too.

Fig. 5: Mowing methods used (n = 23 Delne, n = 36 Hidegség)

Most of the work is done by the family. Very few farmers pay day labourers to cut their grass; 93.2% do it themselves or with the help of their relatives (Fig. 6). (Delne 91.3% themselves/the family, 4.3% day labourers, 4.3% somebody else, n = 23, Hidegség 94.4% themselves/family, 2.8% day labourers, 2.8% somebody else, n = 36)

Fig. 6: Who does the mowing?


In 98.3% of households, farmers use only animal manure as fertilizer on the hay meadows (Delne 95.7% animal manure, 4.3% mixed, n = 23, Hidegség 100% animal manure, n = 26). In almost all cases farmers don’t use chemical fertilizers on hay meadows, because they consider that in the long term it has negative effect on grass quality and quantity.

3. Changes

10 years ago farmers in Delne owned and cultivated a larger area of hay meadow on average than in the present, while Hidegség shows the opposite trend, with more hay meadows owned and cultivated now than 10 years ago. Table 3 shows that the difference between total owned land and cultivated land is much smaller in Hidegség, and the difference is only in hay meadows, not in arable land. This indicates that meadow abandonment happens more in Delne. According to our interviewees and personal observation, this occurs mostly with the outer, mountain meadows. This is related to the decrease in stock numbers and mechanization, and therefore decreased demand for hay. However, in “bad years”, when drought or excessive precipitation occur, which produces less hay on the low altitude meadows, more of the mountain meadows are mown. This happened in 2010, when the haymaking season was particularly wet.

2000 2010
Delne Hidegség Delne Hidegség
Hay Arable Hay Arable Hay Arable Hay Arable
Total owned 5.31 3.25 4.22 0.194 2.90 2.86 4.58 0.199
Cultivated 3.78 1.93 4.16 0.191 2.44 2.78 4.40 0.199

Table 3: The amount of hay meadow and arable land owned and cultivated per farm in 2000 and 2010 in the two villages (in hectares, n=24 for Delne and n=33 for Hidegség).

In total, 48.2% of farmers bought, sold or rented out land in the past ten years. (Delne 45.5%, Hidegség 50%, n = 22 Delne, n = 34 Hidegség). According to our data, more farmers bought meadows in Hidegség than in Delne although the size of the total bought land is similar. When asked specifically how many hectares they had sold, bought or rented, fewer farmers responded (Table 4). Four farmers claimed they sold some of their hay meadows in the past ten years, twelve bought and six rented out. Regarding arable land: two farmers sold part of their fields, four bought and another four rented. This is a surprisingly low level of ownership change, and the land remained in the property of the villages. However, we know a case when large amounts of land (several 100 to 1000 ha were bought up by one land owner who is outside the communities in Hidegség).

  Hay meadow (ha) Arable land (ha)
  Sold Bought Rented out Sold Bought Rented out
Delne n/a 5.46 (3) 6.76 (3) 0.64 (2) 2.28 (3) 8.90 (4)
Hidegség 7.90 (4) 16.24 (9) 6 (3) n/a 0.05 (1) n/a

Table 4: Sold, bought and rented land in the past 10 years, totals, separately for the two villages. Number in brackets = number of individuals buying, selling, renting.


Twelve out of sixty farmers said that they stopped raising some of their livestock (Fig. 10), mainly because of the lack of market. Most of them explained that the products (e.g. milk, wool, live animal) cannot be sold at a reasonable price or there is no market and because of this raising livestock produces only loss. These farmers in the present have a few pigs, usually one cow, a horse and some poultry, which cover a part of a household’s needs. Fig. 7 also shows that while in Delne average stock number per farm decreased to less than half, in Hidegség it increased by approximately 10%. In both 2000 and 2010, Delne farmers reported a minimum of one and a maximum of 18 cows. In Hidegség in 2000 there was a minimum of one and a maximum of 15 cattle and in 2010 a minimum of one and maximum of 20.

Fig. 7: Changes in the number of cows in Delne and Hidegség (mean no. of cows per farm) Delne n=15, Hidegség n=33

81% of the farmers said they did not consider buying more cows in the future. Those few who said that they might buy more cows pronounced that they will do it only if it is worth it and only if they find full-blood stock.
However, only 16.4% considered selling all their cows in the future and gave different explanations like: “I will sell my cows when I won’t be able to make hay anymore”, “If I don’t receive subsidies anymore, then I’ll keep only two”, “If the animal gets old and doesn’t give any more milk”, “I’m already selling the calves for the slaughter house”.


We put a special emphasis on listening and collecting the problems of each farmer. This way we managed to get answers from three quarters of them. Of course, we are aware that this doesn’t mean that the rest have no problems at all. Below are the problems listed by the respondents:
- selling milk and meat is a problem
- milk is paid very late, we don’t receive any subsidies
- everyday food has to be produced, people have to help each other
- sale system is not realistic, it’s not developed
- illness and old age
- illness, lack of firewood and heating aid
- petrol is too expensive
- petrol and day labourers are too expensive, so the land should stay abandoned
- the sale system is bad, the milk is not taken
- my husband has only one arm, gathering firewood for the winter is a big problem
- paying the tractor driver
- lack of good silos, disinterest of people, can sell neither potatoes nor wheat
- can’t use mowing machine on the hay meadow, the land is not fertile
- if you help others then they don’t return the favour, not even in exchange for money
- everything, lack of subsidies, help, low milk prices, it’s not worth selling [milk]
- you have to buy everything besides hay, for instance wheat
- I had a job and didn’t have enough free time that I could spend on farming
- hay making is hard, low subsidies, there are no day labourers
- products are hard to sell, we struggle a lot
- products can’t be sold, milk doesn’t have a fair price
- can’t sell anything, even if I try I will receive the money very late
- milk doesn’t have a price, we don’t know what to use the horse for
- no products have a reasonable price, subsidies will halt
- products have no value
- no machines, no subsidies
- no subsidies
- lack of money, problems with selling milk and meat
- we can’t sell potatoes, the milk collecting point stopped functioning
- there are many expenses, in the summer every penny of our pension is spent on farming
- too much work, the price of milk is low
- milk is not being collected
- milk and meat don’t have a fair price
- more subsidies would be needed, to buy a tractor for example
- petrol and spare parts are expensive, the products don’t have a proper price.

The general perception of people about farming is that it is very hard work and the revenues are small if any. We can presume that this perception is a main force that drives young people from farming towards higher education or alternative employment, leaving them to consider farming only as a “last resort”.

Subsidies and grants

Uptake of subsidies and grants is shown in Table 5. The nature of the subsidies is described in the introduction. Our respondents took up three subsidies and one grant. 81.8% of farmers would like to receive subsidies in the future. Our quantitative data do not explain the low take-up of the agri-environment subsidy and the semi subsistence farming grant. But interview evidence leads us to conclude the following. We believe that many more farms in our survey are eligible for the agri-environment measure. It seems that most farms in Hidegség and a large percentage in Delne are eligible for package 1 of the agri-environment schemes (HNV grasslands), and most farms in Hidegség are eligible for package 2 (non-mechanized farming). The criterion for total land size (>1 ha grassland) is fulfilled in both sites, plot size >0.3 is a problem in both cases, mowing after 1 July is more a problem in Delne, where mowing starts earlier. The complexity of the application process for the semi subsistence farming grant may be why only one of our respondents had applied for it.

It was obvious from the interviews and talks with people that they are not familiar with the available schemes; they don’t understand the reason for receiving these payments and simply accept the recommendation of the officers from the Local Council.

Table 5 shows that Land based subsidies are well absorbed. The small numbers of cows may explain the small percentage of subsidies after animals in Delne. Absorption of the agri-environment scheme is very low.

  Delne (n=24) Hidegség (n=36)
Land based 66.7% (16) 97.2% (35)
After animals 37.5% (9) 77.8% (28)
Agri-environment 12.5% (3) 16.7% (6)
Semi-subsistence farming 0 2.8% (1)

Table 5: Absorption of subsidies (figure in brackets = number of households taking up the subsidy or grant)

4. Selling farm produce


The first and probably most important hay meadow product is the hay itself. Very few farmers have the chance to sell the excess at a reasonable price. The answers are grouped below (Table 6). Only the farms in Delne sold any hay (6 farms). The hay market is local in Delne and regional in Hidegség (farmers from Moldavia come to buy hay), and it is a very fluctuating market.

  2009 2008 2007
Farmer Buyer Quantity (t) Price/kg (RON) Buyer Quantity (t) Price/kg (RON) Buyer Quantity (t) Price/kg (RON)
F 1 locals 2 0.50 locals 2 0.50 locals 2 0.50
F 2 the army 18 0.25 locals 18 0.30 locals 18 0.30
F 3 another village 2.4 0.30 another village 2.4 0.30 - - -
F 4 - 1 0.16 - 1 0.16 - 1 0.16
F 5 - 1 3.5 - 1 3.5 - - -
F 6 locals 5.5 0.20 - - - - - -

Table 6: Hay sales (only farmers from Delne sold hay)

Milk prices and quantity

Milk price is likely to be an important factor in decisions about how many cows to own. It is a crucial factor in the rural economy, especially in Hidegség, where there are few other cash crops apart from wood, and few employment opportunities.

There is a large variation in milk prices by season and in different villages. Some farmers sell their milk directly to neighbours or in the town, others through a milk collection point owned by a milk company; others sell through locally owned collection points or informal co-operation. Selling milk directly to consumers is characteristic of Delne only. In Hidegség no farm sold their milk to other than a milk collecting point. We speculate that this is because every family has a cow in our Hidegség study area so there is no scope for selling milk to neighbours.

Table 7 shows that the price of milk is generally higher in Delne. The decrease in 2009 is due to the stopping of the government milk subsidy (0.3 RON). Selling directly to the consumer achieves double price in Delne compared to selling at the milk collection point, but it is not practiced in Hidegség because of the lack of market. There has been a slight increase in the price of milk from collecting points since 2007. Average prices paid by direct consumers show a slight decline in the past three years, although this might be an artefact of the low number of responses.

Delne (RON/l) n=21
  to the milk collecting point   directly to consumers
  2007 (3) 2008 (3) 2009 (3)   2007 (4) 2008 (7) 2009 (8)
Mean 0.66 0.80 0.63   1.37 1.28 1.25
Min 0.50 0.50 0.50   1 1 1
Max 1 1.30 0.70   2 2 2
Hidegség (RON/l) n=36
  to the milk collecting point   directly to consumers
  2007 (20) 2008 (20) 2009 (19)   2007 2008 2009
Mean 0.64 0.74 0.77   - - -
Min 0.40 0.50 0.50   - - -
Max 0.80 0.90 0.90   - - -

Table 7: Milk prices in the past three years in both villages (RON/l). The number in brackets is the number of farms selling milk at each sales point.

Fig. 8: Variations in mean milk volume sold per day in the past three years in both villages.
n=21 Delne, n= 36 Hidegség

  Delne (litres) n=21 Hidegség (litres) n=36
  2007 (5) 2008 (8) 2009 (11) 2007 (19) 2008 (19) 2009 (20)
Mean 20.40 18.62 14.36 36.78 34.47 31.25
Min 2 2 5 4 15 5
Max 32 32 30 125 90 90
Sum 102 149 158 699 655 625

Table 8: Milk volume sold per day in the past three years in the two villages separately. The number in brackets is the number of farms selling milk in each year.

There is an overall decrease in milk sales over the past three years (Table 8, Fig 8). The apparent increase in milk volume in Delne in the past three years is an artefact of the number of respondents having increased for each year. Our respondents in Hidegség told us that milk companies had ceased collecting milk in their valleys during the past year. This is a serious situation since there is no readily alternative market for milk in this remote area.

Besides milk and hay the farms in our survey produce a long list of other products. In theory they could create income by selling these products, but our results show that few of them do. We asked the farmers if they sell animals, eggs, cheese, vegetables, fruit, honey, wheat or any other product, but the answer was no in most cases (Table 9). Only three farmers out of sixty answered that they used to sell the calves, one sells pigs, three said that they sell cheese to locals and another farmer sells eggs. Selling calves was a stable income source in the Communist times, when the state contracted calves, and also in the 1990s when private merchants bought up animals. This has declined probably because of stricter regulations on traders and market.

Potatoes are an important product in Delne. Several Delne farmers are selling their potatoes for 0.20-0.80 RON/kg to Romanian merchants and others would consider selling if there was a market. Because of the lack of suitable growing conditions, no potatoes are sold by the Hidegség farms.

We asked who would be willing to sell products if there was a demand for them. More than 62% of respondents said that they would like to sell products and 37.7% said that they would not simply because their family consumes everything.

The list of products which people would consider selling in future, according to reference frequency is shown in Table 9. Two farmers stated that they would produce and sell any kind of home products.

Some farmers (24.5%) would consider applying for organic status if that helped them sell more products and at a better price, but they believe that there isn’t currently enough demand for this type of merchandise.

  Delne Hidegség
Product Currently selling Would consider selling Currently selling Would consider selling
Milk 13 1 23 4
Hay 6 2 - -
Animals 1 1 3 9
Eggs 1 1 - 1
Cheese - - 3 6
Vegetables - - - -
Potatoes 6 8 1 2
Fruit - 1 - -
Honey - - - -
Wheat 1 2 - -
Meat - - - 5
Various milk products - - - 2

Table 9: The number of respondents selling farm produce at present and willingness to sell on demand

5. Attitude, motivation and future of farming

When asked why they farm, most said it is because it is their only source of living (Fig. 9). Also, over one third claimed that they have to keep farming, because it is a tradition, this is how they grew up and this is what they learned from their parents and grandparents. Several claimed that farming is a good source of income. Almost 10% answered that by farming their family can reduce everyday expenses and a couple of farmers responded that their work can only be considered as a hobby.

Other notable answers to this question were:

Fig. 9: Reasons for farming. n=24 Delne, n=36  Hidegség

Fig. 10 shows that according the farmers, the main factors helping them continue farming are better milk price, and better possibilities to sell products (market). Subsidies were considered important by more than one third. Professional advice and other types of activities are considered less important.

Fig. 10: What would help you continue farming? n=24 Delne, n=36 Hidegség

62.3% responded that they want to continue farming as long as they live or as long as their health makes it possible. One farmer estimated that he plans to continue farming for two more years, another farmer for three-four years and one other for five more years. The rest of them answered that the future is uncertain.

Regarding future plans, only a little over one-fifth (21.6%) of the farmers said that they have plans. Most of the farmers were unable to articulate any plans or just wish to keep working as they did until now. A few ideas from those who have plans in agriculture for the future:

Regarding farmer’s opinion about descendants’ attitude to farming, we found that 56% of respondents believe their children and grandchildren will continue farming, while 36% say that their descendants will not farm at all (n = 50).

Those who considered that their children will not continue farming pointed out three important reasons: they are interested in other jobs, they plan to go to college/university or earn money abroad. Interestingly only one farmer thinks that today’s youth of rural areas is more attracted by the possibilities available in nearby towns.

6. Information

Regarding the relationship between landscape and farming, some farmers are aware of the value that they create through agriculture, but they aren’t fully confident that the landscape could be also used to produce income. For instance 67.9% know that this region has exceptionally rich meadows (i.e. many plants and wildlife) compared to the rest of Europe, and that traditional land management is responsible for keeping it special, but only 57.7% know that tourists are interested in coming here. And even though we explained that tourists would pay to experience and learn traditional farming, only 35.7% had considered hosting them. It was evident to the interviewers that the respondent did not understand the terminology in these questions. It is most unlikely that many householders are aware of the European significance of the biodiversity in their meadows. A future survey should rephrase the questions.
We used this opportunity to check farmer’s awareness about the existence and activities of Pogány-havas Association, the organisation conducting the survey: 57.7% knew about it and for 42.3% it was the first time they had heard of it.


Although we interviewed only 60 farmers, this study reveals important patterns, provides a baseline for future study, and a pilot for larger-scale surveys.
The general picture of farming in the studied area shows big similarities to the ancient subsistence family farm type practiced in Europe in Medieval times. Land ownership, farm structure, farm organization, product range all show a system for domestic use and opportunistic adaptation to changing markets. The attitude of farmers is also reactive (not proactive), most of them do not seem to have plans for the medium term except to continue business-as-usual.

There are obvious signs of modernization and mechanization of farms. The farming system is more traditional in the more isolated mountain village and shows more signs of change in the village close to a city. Changes did not start with the coming of EU, but probably with the start of industrialization of the area, which produced large asymmetries in the originally rural society of this region. As opposed to the communist times, when there was mostly a safe and reliable market for farm products, post-communism and EU led to the disappearance of this security. Farmers face huge problems in selling their main products: milk and meat. Low price is a problem, but the essential problem is lack of a link between producer and consumer.

Land use is similar in the two studied areas, but animal stock numbers, land size and the amount of cultivated land size changed in a different way. Perhaps the most important change from a nature conservation point of view is meadow abandonment. There are no data about the effect of this on meadow biodiversity in the area, but in the long term (decades) it is probably negative, as well as on a cultural level, and on the level of man-nature relationship.

Farmer’s awareness of the larger scale significance and value of their work is very low.
Poor communication between authorities and the farming population, as well as the passive attitude of farmers leads to a very low absorption of some subsidies, an area where organizational help could have results in the short term.

Many of the problems identified by farmers in this survey, notably low milk prices/low incomes are probably very similar to those across Europe, including in areas where farming is significantly more intensive and profitable than it is here.

Despite the many problems faced by farmers in our region, and articulated by them in this survey, it is encouraging to discover that almost 2/3 of them plan to continue farming for the rest of their lives and almost one half believe that their descendants will farm. While 81% of them have no plans to buy more cows in the future, less than 20% would consider selling all of their cows. Although in theory several farmers would consider selling more of their produce, the lack of obvious marketing opportunities appears to prevent them from doing so. Very few farmers were able to articulate plans for the future.

There are some distinct differences between our two study sites: Delne and Hidegség. Although the numbers are too small to assert any statistically significant differences, it was interesting to note that managed hay meadows had decreased in area in Delne in the past 10 years but had increased in Hidegség, and there was a corresponding decrease in cow numbers in Delne but an increase in Hidegség.

The data in this survey provide preliminary information for rural development and conservation organisations such as our own to design strategies for improving rural incomes and preserving the landscape through traditional farming. It also offers an insight into the scope for increasing uptake of certain subsidies.


We thank the farmers for generously giving their time and hospitality. We thank Farkas Attila for help in conducting the survey, and Krystyna Larkham, Irina Solovyeva for helpful comments on the survey design. We thank Sólyom Andrea for valuable comments on the manuscript. This study was part of a project financed by UNDP GEF Small Grants Programme and Dr Barbara Knowles.


Babai, D., Molnár, Zs., 2011 - Ethnogeobotanical studies in Gyimes II: knowledge of habitats and site preferences of plant species. In press

Csergő A. M., Demeter L., Molnár Zs., Babai D., Jakab, G., 2011 - Proposal for the creation of a new Natura 2000 site in the Ciuc Mountains. In: Mountain hay meadows: hotspots of biodiversity and traditional culture, Ed. Barbara Knowles, Society of Biology, London.

Demeter L., Csergő A. M., Sándor A. D., Imecs I., Vizauer Cs.T. 2011 - Natural treasures of the Csík Basin (Depresiunea Ciucului) and Csík Mountains (Munţii Ciucului). In: Mountain hay meadows: hotspots of biodiversity and traditional culture, Ed. Barbara Knowles, Society of Biology, London.

Garda D., 2002 - A székelyközbirtokosság. Státus Kiadó, Csíkszereda. [The Székely Compossessorate]

Gagyi J. 2007 - Földosztók, önellátók, gyarapodók. A dekollektivizáció emberei. Mentor Kiadó, Marosvásárhely. [Those who distribute the land, those who cultivate it, those who succeed]

Molnár, Zs., Babai, D., 2011 – Ethnogeobotanical studies in Gyimes I: plant names, folk taxonomy, personal and community knowledge. In. press
Oláh S., 2004 – Falusi látleletek. Pro-Print Könyvkiadó, Csíkszereda. [Village diagnoses]

Péter P., 2011 - Agri-environmental payments in Harghita County – do they have real benefits for HNV grasslands? In: Mountain hay meadows: hotspots of biodiversity and traditional culture, Ed. Barbara Knowles, Society of Biology, London.

Rodics G., Knowles B., 2011 - Supporting agriculture, tradition and ecosystems in the Pogány-havas microregion of Transylvania In: Mountain hay meadows: hotspots of biodiversity and traditional culture, Ed. Barbara Knowles, Society of Biology, London.

Sólyom A., 2009 - Situaţia agrară, atitudini faţă de valorile naturale și potenţialul agro-turistic al comunei Mereşti. Reconect 1: 16-30. [Agrarian situation, attitudes towards natural treasures and the agro-touristic potential of Merești commune]