Bulgarian agriculture is full of surprises

Haehnlein
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What do you expect if you visit agricultural Bulgaria, asks Hans Siemes

As the Bulgarian Association of Agricultural Journalists showed during their first ENAJ press trip at the beginning of June, there is much more to the country’s farming than grain, grapes, vegetables, fruit and dairy. A friendly, hospitable event from our Bulgarian colleagues showed us roses, honey, buffalos and pharmaceuticals, writes Hans Siemes. Read more, click here. 

Half a million depend on agriculture

Firstly, it’s good to know that agriculture in Bulgaria is important and export is increasing. More than half a million people receive their income of activities related to agriculture (350,000 farmers, 150,000 workers in the agro sector). The land for agriculture production is about 4,6 million hectares, but most of the owners only have a small property. The average is 0.5 ha. But there are huge producers too, who own more than 2,000 hectares.

Vegetable production recovers a bit

In the past, up to half of the arable land was used for vegetables, mainly exported to the Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc. Today most of the arable land is used for grain, but vegetables are making a comeback. The country expects a lot from organic farming: production has increased six times in five years to nearly 170,000 hectares and 7,000 organic farmers.

Famous for rose oil

Rose_petals

Bulgarian rose petals, harvested for oil

Just as the Netherlands has tulips, Bulgaria has roses to be proud of.

A very specific and old cultivation, which goes back to 400BC. The Tharcians cultivated more than 20 varieties of roses, the queen of the flowers as Homer wrote.

Nowadays Bulgaria is the world’s most famous producer of rose oil (45 per cent of the world production). That started about 350 years ago, when the Damascus oil bearing rose was imported from Syria. Every day from May 15 until June 10 women are picking rose petals very early in the morning, between 4.30 and 8.30. Approximately 3,500 kilos of rose petals are needed to obtain 1 kilo of rose oil. The best pick 80 kilos per day. No wonder that it is expensive. The rose cultivation is still increasing up to 3,500 hectares.

10,000 tonnes of honey

The most important Rose Valley is in the region of Plovdiv, by the way the oldest inhabited city in Europe, older than for example Athens. In 4,000 BC a Neolithic settlement was started in what is now Bulgaria. And all ready in that time a specific part of agriculture was developed: bee keeping. Honey still is important with a production of 10,000 tonnes per year, but the 100,000s of beekeepers are affected and furious about the import of honey into the EU from Ukraine.

Old races

Bulgarian buffaloSo Bulgaria is proud of their tradition, as the interest in old races shows too. The participants visited a farm in which the farmer with the help of Swiss experts re-introduced old sheep races, old Bulgarian dairy breeds and buffalos.

Modern pharmaceuticals

Tradition on one site, very modern on the other side with modern industries like the Biovet fermentation plant in Peshtera, which the 20 participants of the tour visited. An example of a fast growing and highly developed global enterprise in the agricultural sector.

Biovet is owned by Huvepharma, a worldwide privately- owned company, headquartered in Sofia. It focuses on human and animal products like nutritional feed additives, enzymes and pharmaceuticals for animals. It’s one of the world’s top ten veterinary pharmaceutical companies.