Feta cheese production in Thessaly
Dairy production in Greece
The most characteristic feature of the structure of the rural economy in Greece is
the unequal relationship between animal and crop production. The value of animal
production in the total value of agricultural production varies between 26% in 2000
and 30% in 2007 (the year with the lowest total value of the agricultural production
in the period 2000-2012) while this relationship between animal and crop
production in EU is about 45%. Milk production is almost 41% of the total value of
livestock production while sheep and goat meat represents the 25% of the total
livestock value (Speed, 2015).
Another characteristic feature of Greece compared to other EU countries is the
predominance of small ruminants (sheep and goat) in livestock breeding and the
deficit of dairy cow products, therefore sheep and goat milk production take up to
60% of the total milk production and the rest 40% is cow milk.
Although at European level, sheep and goat farming is a minor agricultural activity(3.6% of the total value of livestock production) that nonetheless takes up an
important part of the agricultural land in certain countries in EU, Greece has thebiggest goat herd population, but with a gradual switch from goats to sheep (AND
Greece has a long history of pastoral farming of sheep and goats while extensive
farming is the most common form of traditional farming, with the livestock often
herded in mixed flocks for cheese production (up to 30% of the milk used for the
production of Feta) and has contributed significantly to the current traditional
landscape and the biodiversity of rural areas. This system covers much of the main
land and is especially significant for nature conservation of mountainous areas.
Sheep and goat sector has vital role for the stability of rural population by providing
income for thousands of farmers. In 2010 extensive livestock was practiced in
2,465,161 ha which accounted to 47.6% of the total UAA of the country, while in
the EU-25 is 28.9% (Speed 2015). Nevertheless, the sector is facing a significant
decline in production and a reduction in the number of the holdings, as well as a
total failure to attract young sheep and goat farmers (Hadjigeorgiou, 2014).
Sheep in Greece are kept mainly for milk production, and in contrast with the cow’s
milk, the majority (70%) is transformed into quality cheese products (Gousios et al,
2014) and secondarily into yogurts and other milk-based products. Nearly 80% of
sheep and goat milk derives from small and family farms with an average herd size
less than 100 animals, which are highly dependent on family labour, with almost
115,000 families engaged in farming and over 300,000 people working part or full
time in the primary dairy sector (Parpouna et al, 2015).
Dairy processors are scattered all over the country and are operating mainly
regionally while they vary greatly in size. The secondary dairy sector, i.e. milk
processing, involves 53 big dairy companies processing >5000 tons of milk per year
and 671 SMEs or family dairy units processing <5000 tons of milk per year
(Parpouna, 2015) They process all types of milk produced in Greece, namely
602,519 tons of cow milk, 547,815,383 of sheep milk, 129,566,015 tons of goat milk
in 2015 (ELOGAK, 2016) while the highest volume is directed in the production of
drinking milk, yogurt and cheese. There are 3-4 firms which operate at national and
even at international level, while the on-farm production of sheep and goat
cheeses and other milk-based products is estimated to reach the 1/5 of total
production. These units operate at a limited scale covering mainly the needs of the
local markets (Hadjigeorgiou, 2014).
In accordance with the national and European legislation applied, Feta is a
Protected Destination of Origin (PDO) since 2002 and as that is produced with
traditional techniques in Greece, in the defined geographical area consisted by the
continental parts of the administrative regions of Attica, Central Greece, Western
Greece, Peloponnese, Thessaly, Epirus, Western Macedonia, Central Macedonia,
Easter Macedonia and Thrace and from the regional unit of Lesbos from sheep milk
or in a mixture with 30% of goat milk from the same area. Milk is derived from
sheep and goats adapted to the area of the production of Feta, whose diet is based
on the flora of the local pastures.
The Thessaly region (NUTS 2), is located in the centre-east of mainland Greece, has
an area of 14,037 km2 (50% of which is plains) which is equal to the 10.6% of the
total area of Greece and Larissa is its administrative center. The UAA in Thessaly is
861,000 ha, or 15% of the national UAA. The 50% of the area, devoted to pasture
(mainly rough grazing) are located mainly in the mountainous and semimountainous areas,
with the plains being mainly devoted to intensive crop
production (Gousios et al, 2014). The primary sector of Thessaly contributed with
14.22% to the country’s primary production in 2009. On the other hand, the
contribution of the primary sector in the total production of the region has fallen
from 15.7% in 2000 to 8.75% in 2009 (SBTKE, 2013).