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Europe’s biggest arable farm extends to 57,000 hectares

The largest farm in the EU is in Romania, but owned by a UAE investment fund

With 57,000 hectares to harvest and a subsidy cheque of $15 million coming in, Agricost is the largest farm in Europe and is based in Romania.

In the spring of 2018, United Arab Emirates-based investment fund Al Dahra purchased the farm from a Romanian businessman in a deal worth over $345 million. This investment group owns and operates an area of more than 200,000 hectares (almost 500,000 acres) in over 20 countries.

Spreading out across the fertile lands around Braila Island in southeastern Romania, Agricost is 60 kilometres long, 11 kilometres wide, and is divided into 29 sub-farms.

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Being in the southeast, the farm sits close to Braila Port on the River Danube where barges constantly haul grain in harvest season. The farm can also store its own grain on-site. Including port storage facilities, total storage capacity is over 50,000 tonnes.

Harvest yields at Agricost have been good over the years with corn being the most profitable crop to grow. In 2016 Agricost harvested 416,000 tonnes of grain, the highest from a single farm in Romania.

Yield averages in Romania are low compared to other EU arable nations due to a shortage of, and or, a deluge of water. Most years there is not enough water to maintain the crops while in extreme years, heavy rain or hail can wipe out a crop overnight.

At Agricost, 70 per cent of the land is irrigated and plans are in place to irrigate the remainder with the help of EU funds. However, as the land is really an island formed from the River Danube last century, when the river rises, the groundwater levels also rise and in the spring can easily flood the crops.

To handle the excess rainwater, Agricost built over 150 kilometres of channels to drain the water back into the Danube using 32 high-capacity pumps.

Seeding just under 60,000 hectares (just under 150,000 acres) requires a lot of machinery and staff. Lucian Buzdugan, president of the board, said: “We have 200 tractors including 10 Case Steigers as well as 100 combines. The majority of the tractors and combines are from Claas. Here at Agricost, we have found Claas to be very reliable and having compared the other big brands, Claas also has the better service backup.

“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,” he said.

Agricost receives the equivalent of $15 million from the European Union each year. Lucian said, “We receive 175 euros ($263) per hectare on average from the European Union. Corn is our most profitable crop on this farm. Last harvest we achieved a yield of 13.3 tonnes per hectare and received 150 euros ($225) per tonne for that.

“Our cost per hectare for the corn is in the region of 1,428 euros ($2,143) so with the subsidy we make over 725 euros ($1,088) per hectare profit.

When it comes to selling the grains only 10 per cent of all production from Agricost is sold directly to customers; the remaining is sold on the stock market.

Lucian says Romania is being discriminated against when it comes to the use of GMOs. He says, “The European Union has banned us from using GMO in Romania, yet allows us to import GM feed. That is discrimination in terms.

“GM soya could help us resist disease and reduce pesticide but we are forbidden from using it. Where is the sense in that?” he asked.

“It’s time the European Union put us all on a level playing field going forward. It either is for or against GMOs and cannot say it’s ok to buy it in, but not grow it ourselves.”

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