With the shackles of communist rule well and truly released, a dairy farm in eastern Romania is planning to double its current herd size in just two years. By: Chris McCullough
It was back in the early 1990s following the revolution that swept across Eastern Europe that Romania became free from communism. Some remnants of that period still exist on farms there today.
But roll the clock on almost two decades and the country’s dairy industry is performing quite well, with a current value of 800 million euros annually – US$911.72 million. One of those former communist-era farms – founded in 1972 but later privatized in 2001 – is Agrimat Matca. The farm now extends to 4,000 hectares of arable land for grain growing and a 400-milking-cow dairy enterprise.
Agrimat Matca is currently owned by major shareholder Gavrila Tuchilus, who started working on the farm when he was 33 during the communist period. Back then it was a breeding farm supplying genetics and breeding animals to other state-owned farms. The initial nucleus herd of Holstein cows was all brought in from Denmark. Those cows started the high-genetics herd that exists on the farm today. Today the farm is milking 400 Holstein cows.
Though a dairy farm, Agrimat is also a well-established arable farm growing wheat, corn, sunflowers and rapeseed. The arable enterprise combined with the dairy and a vineyard turn over €6.3 million per year – US$7.18 million.
Another long-serving member of the farm’s staff is Gabriela Ganoa, who has worked on the farm for the past 27 years and is now the farm manager. She said the farm has a goal to double its milking herd and expand to 800 cows in the next two years, as well as to build a new barn and install a 40-point rotary milking parlor.
“This farm invested heavily in good semen, particularly from the United States when it arrived in Romania for the first time in 2004, after the communist era,” she said. “We started using sexed semen here in 2007 to build up our female herd. One year later we purchased 32 embryos, which had a transfer success rate of 61.5 percent.
“Our cows are milked three times per day and average 11,800 litres of milk per cow per year. They are milked in a Banat 16/16 milking parlor by three people on each shift at 4 a.m., 12 noon and again at 7 p.m.
“We use high digital technology in the milking system supplied by Afimilk in Israel to monitor milk supply, quality and herd health. The milk is sold to a local processor for around 29 euro cents (US$0.33) per litre. But this price increases during the winter time due to there being a lag in the country’s milk production. It costs us in the region of 25 euro cents (US$0.28) per litre to produce the milk.”
There are just more than 1,000 animals in total at the Agrimat farm, including young stock kept in housing that mostly dates back to the communist era. The young heifer calves are kept in old-style pens with indoor and outdoor access while the older heifers have access to open corals with cubicles.
Bull calves born on the farm are reared until they are 400 kilograms – about 882 pounds – and then sold for 6.5 Romanian leu per kilogram – US$1.60 – to fattening farms.
“Our calves are kept with their mothers for three days to ensure they get a good start and enough colostrum,” Ganoa said. “Currently we have a calf mortality rate of under 5 percent, which we think is very good.”
The main milking herd is divided into three production groups – fresh calvers, high-production cows and the remainder in a late-lactation group.
A total of 14 different feed rations are mixed at Agrimat for the various groups of animals from young calves through to the high producers. Diets are mostly comprised of alfalfa hay, maize silage, beer barley and mineral supplements with the high yielders receiving extra protein supplementations.
Demand for milk and dairy produce in Romania is increasing; that’s the key reason Agrimat wants to increase production and become more efficient.
“We want to double our herd size by investing in two new barns with a 40-point rotary parlor in between them,” Ganoa said. “We have a lot of heifers coming through so we have the numbers, but we need to set up an efficient milking system. Our target is to reach 800 cows within two years. And we hope to do this with our own money, not with specific EU funds.
“I think the European Union milk market is not a fair place for all EU countries to operate in. There are better conditions and easier markets for some countries to trade with. However, we here at Agrimat will be concentrating on our home market going forward with our expansion plans.”
Chris McCullough, brought up on a dairy and beef farm in the heart of Northern Ireland, is a journalist who specialises in the international world of agriculture.