Tech­nology versus drought

No Romanian farm has ever been big, beau­tiful, and prof­itable from the very start. Most farmers had to start all over again after the end of commu­nist rule in 1989. This was the case for Agroserv Borcea, today one of the best-equipped farms in the southern part of the country.

“We started our busi­ness back in 1994,” recalls Rică Stoian, the farm manager from Borcea, Călărași County. “We spent seven to eight years in an asso­ci­a­tion with another agri­cul­tural company, but realised we were not going in the right direc­tion and decided to part ways in 2002. Some of our people came with us. We signed lease agree­ments and from the 450-500ha we had in the begin­ning, we ended up farming over 1800ha.”

As soon as you walk through the farm gates, the facil­i­ties, the well-organ­ised yard and the aesthetic appear­ance make you appre­ciate the owner’s Western vision. The grain recep­tion area where the lorry weigh scales are located, the 15,000-t capacity silos for storing crops, the sheds for trac­tors, combine harvesters and machinery, the solar panels supplying the entire logis­tics plat­form surrounded by well-groomed green space; they all reflect the image of a modern farm.

In 2023, produc­tion halved due to drought.

“I always wanted it to look like this,” says Rică. “On my first Farming at the core outside the country, when I arrived in Western Europe and saw modern, well-kept, attrac­tive-looking farms, I said to myself: Wait a minute, they are people just like us, so why don’t we make a farm at Borcea inspired by what I have seen all over the world?” It all started with this desire, and what exists today has become more than just a farm. It’s a venue for agri­cul­tural company events.

Farming at the core

But farming remains the very core of the busi­ness, with 25% of the land owned and the rest leased. The fields are scat­tered over an 18km radius, and the area does not benefit from heavy rain­fall. On the contrary, recent years have brought severe drought. This is also the reason why the farm’s strategy is based on autumn crops and focuses less on spring crops.

Wheat and rape­seed are the domi­nant crops (800-900ha and 300-400ha, respec­tively), while maize and sunflowers make up 300ha each. “Although we have one of the old irri­ga­tion canals nearby, in our area – Borcea, Jegălia, Unirea – we haven’t seen water in it since 1989. We didn’t drill wells because that’s expen­sive and very compli­cated. Instead, we’ve made the tran­si­tion from conven­tional to conser­va­tion agri­cul­ture, with fewer passes, and we’re heading towards no-till,” explains Rică.

This change required the purchase of new trac­tors and other equip­ment to help conserve soil water, reduce costs and increase produc­tivity. The 10 John Deere trac­tors in the farm­yard are equipped with a suspended front axle, which makes them not only more comfort­able for the oper­a­tors but also more effi­cient on the job. “With this change, trac­tion is distrib­uted evenly to the wheels, thus increasing our produc­tivity per hectare.

Together with some other new machi­nary the John Deere tractor fleet increased produc­tivity by 20-30%.

An impres­sive green and yellow fleet: the 10 John Deere trac­tors of the Agroserv Borcea farm.

“Firstly, we have reduced the working time per day. For example, where we used to spray herbi­cide on 260-300ha per day, today we manage 500ha. Effi­ciency has increased. We sow about 130ha of sunflowers per day. We have two large 8cm discs for field prepa­ra­tion, and we plough about 150-160ha per day with each disc. This tech­no­log­ical improve­ment and equip­ment have meant a 20-30% increase in produc­tivity for us,” says the farmer.

Tran­si­tioning to no till

The farm is still using ploughs, but only on 30-40% of its land, most notably on rape­seed fields because there is no rain­fall in the area and the crop residues need to be ploughed back into the soil. The major struggle is with drought, which upends any busi­ness plan. Although crops gener­ally look good in the spring, over the summer most are compro­mised. In 2023, average yields were 2.4t/ha for rape­seed, 4.3t/ha for wheat, 600kg/ha for sunflowers and only 400kg/ha for maize. “We are striving to intro­duce the no-till system,” explains Rică. “We have been using the Horsch Tiger culti­vator for 10 years now, and produc­tion is 20% higher as a result.” However, as hard as we try, some­times we simply can’t fight against nature.”