Europe’s biggest farm: 57,000 hectares, $14.8 million in subsidies

More than 20,000 tonnes of grain can be stored on-site and at Braila Port before being transported up the River Danube on boats to customers. | Chris McCullough photo

Romania has been a member of the European Union for only 10 years but the EU’s largest farm has set up shop here, covering 140,800 acres.

Spreading out around Braila Island in the southeastern part of the country, the island farm, managed as Agricost, runs 60 kilometres long and 11 km wide and is divided into 29 sub-farms, each of which manage their own crops.

Agricost has developed into the biggest cereal producer in Romania receiving $14.8 million per year in EU subsidies.

Shipping grain off the farm is easy because it sits close to Braila Port on the River Danube where barges constantly haul grain in harvest season.

The farm can store its own grain on-site but together with the port storage facilities, the total capacity exceeds 50,000 tonnes.

Romania has a total agricultural area of 34.5 million acres of which about 23 million acres are arable. However, due to a lack of investment and irrigation up to 3.2 million acres of the arable land goes unused each year.

This may change soon because Romania is the only country in Eastern Europe that allows foreign investors to buy land outright without having to enter into local renting arrangements.

Agricost is owned by Constantin Dulute, and Lucian Buzdugan serves as the president of the administration board.

“Tradition, performance and innovation, but also the implementation of new technologies based on efficient resources management, in harmony with the environment represents the mission of Agricost. With all that in mind we were able to harvest over 410,000 tonnes in 2016,” said Dulute.

“For the 2018 year, we are economically pursuing a production of 1,000 tonnes per active employee with a total production of 500,000 tonnes that year by expanding the direct sowing technologies.”

All of the land is rented from the Romanian government on 30-year contracts but the network of roads, irrigation systems and a barge to ship the cereal have been provided by Agricost.

In 2016, Agricost harvested 416,000 tonnes of grain. Farm management has set a goal to produce 500,000 tonnes in 2018.

With about 148,000 acres to seed, maintain and harvest, a lot of machinery is required, said Buzdugan. “We have 200 tractors including 10 Case Steigers as well as 100 combines. The majority of the tractors and combines are from Claas.

“We normally keep machinery for eight years before replacing it. Last time we bought machinery we ordered 30 new combines in the one order.

“In one year we use around five million litres of diesel and that includes usage by our 400 irrigation pivots.

“We receive 175 euros ($256.94) per hectare (70 euros per acre) on average from the European Union. If it were to cap our subsidies, that would be totally disastrous for our business here.”

For 2017, the farm is growing 36,700 acres of winter wheat, 19,900 of winter barley, 28,900 of corn, 24,800 of soybeans, 20,200 in sunflowers, 6,200 of alfalfa hay and 642 acres of peas, with the remainder left as fallow.

Yield averages in Romania are low compared to other EU nations. In most cases there is not enough water to maintain crops, but in extreme cases, heavy rain or hail can wipe out a crop overnight.

About 70 percent of the land is irrigated and plans are in place to irrigate the remainder with the help of EU funds.

However, because the land is situated on an island formed from the River Danube, when the river rises, the groundwater also rises and can easily flood crops.

Agricost has built a network of more than 150 km of channels and pumps to drain the water back into the Danube.

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