Bulgaria is one of the leading agricultural exporters in Southeastern Europe. Although smaller compared to its neighbors, Bulgarian farmers have a long tradition of cultivating all major crops, including cereals, wheat, corn, sunflower seeds (in 2022 Bulgaria has 66 percent of the total EU exports of sunflower meal and 47 percent of EU exports of sunflower oil). Moreover, Bulgaria is the world’s biggest producer of lavender and rose oils. Modernization of agricultural enterprises, particularly for small- and medium-sized farms, is a key priority for the Bulgarian authorities, which is backed by EU financial mechanisms such as the EU structural funds and the National Recovery and Resilience Development Plan and available to all eligible farmers for purchasing agribusiness technologies and solutions.
The agriculture industry makes up 4.4% of the Bulgarian GDP (2022). However, Bulgaria’s GDP contribution from agriculture decreased from USD 787.81 million in the 4Q 2022 to USD 501.09 million in the 1Q2023 (National Statistical Institute of Bulgaria). Agricultural land in Bulgaria is about 41% of the territory (Eurostat). Furthermore, the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Forestry points out that over the last three years the agriculture sector has invested between USD 740 and USD 850 million annually for acquisition of tangible assets such as machinery. Bulgaria is a well-respected market player in Southeast Europe and a key exporter of raw agricultural commodities.
As a member of the EU, Bulgaria receives monetary aid from the Recovery and Resilience Plan and the Common Agricultural Policy’s strategic plan. Both plans aim to repair the economic damage caused by the pandemic crisis and encourage a sustainable and resilient agricultural sector.
The Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) 2023-2027 strategic plan of Bulgaria, worth USD 6.1 billion, was approved by the European Commission in 2022. It is committed to eco-schemes, in addition to environmental and climate-related objectives. The most essential investments focus on agricultural-product processing, irrigation infrastructure, and agricultural holdings. In addition, under the CAP strategic plan, the European Commission allocates EUR 4.1 billion (approx. USD 4.3 billion) in direct income payments to farmers in Bulgaria. This budget will be co-financed by the European Agricultural Guarantee Fund (EAGF) and is valid from 2023 to 2027.
The Recovery and Resilience Plan (RRP) of Bulgaria, which was approved in April 2022, is the first pillar of “Green Bulgaria” (accounts for 42% of the total funding or USD 2.8 billion) and addresses investments in the agricultural sector grouped under “sustainable agriculture.” The investment will cost USD 495.5 million, of which the Recovery Resilience Plan will contribute USD 247.7 million and private co-financing will contribute USD 223.6 million.
The second pillar of the RRP attempts to provide a more effective and consistent data flow for the launch of a centralized electronic agricultural information system, and for a network of communications of field and rain sensors to provide data on soil moisture, air and soil temperature, and rainfall. With an implementation period of 2022–2025, a total of USD 13.52 million is proposed.
Once available, Bulgarian farmers will be able to tap into these sources of EU funding to procure new equipment, which is an opportunity for U.S. suppliers.
U.S. Agribusiness in Bulgaria
Major U.S. agricultural machinery and equipment leaders present in Bulgaria include: John Deere, Titan Machinery, Trimble, Valmont, Precision Planting, Lindsay, Hunter, T-L Irrigation Systems, AGCO, and Equipment Technologies/Apache Sprayers.
The largest corn-processing facility in Southeastern Europe, processing 800,000 MT of corn each year, is based in Bulgaria and owned and operated by U.S. global leader Archer Daniels Midland (ADM). ADM invested USD 200 million to double capacity, to include producing pharma-grade ethanol and renewable energy.
The U.S. Commercial Service in Sofia and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS) work together to monitor Bulgarian commodities and assist U.S. agricultural exporters in entering the local market. Refer to the section “Agricultural Sector” in this Country Commercial Guide for more information on the USDA/FAS and its reports.
EU standards and conformity
EU markets are subject to an extensive EU regulatory regime. U.S. agricultural equipment exporters must ensure that their products receive the “CE” mark to sell their products in any of the 27 EU member states. The CE mark is applied to products that conform to relevant EU legislation and products that obtain this mark are able to move freely within the European single market.
U.S. products must also comply with other EU directives and regulations such as REACH (Registration, Evaluation, Authorization and Restrictions of Chemicals), WEEE (the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Directive), RoHS (the Restriction of Hazardous Substances Directive), and others depending on the product. EU standards and conformity regimes (not all are listed here), are important for obtaining the CE mark. While it is theoretically possible to use other standards to meet essential requirements, U.S. manufacturers report that in practice the costs and uncertainty associated with not using EU-recognized standards can be prohibitive. An experienced agent or distributor can assist in navigating EU standards.
Agribusiness Best Prospects
Tractors, Root-Crop Harvesting Equipment, Tillage Equipment and Handling Equipment
Sales of new agricultural equipment in Bulgaria are highly dependent on EU funding support. According to Statista (2023), “wholesale of agricultural machinery, equipment and supplies” revenue in Bulgaria in 2022 reached USD 631.46 million and it is expected to increase to USD 676.83 million by 2025.
EU financial resources are expected to be available for irrigation systems. Private investment in the irrigation sub-sector is on the rise and several pilot projects have been completed – some with U.S. technology and equipment. Local farmers are interested in purchasing equipment from international companies that can provide excellent after-sales service, spare parts, and on-demand maintenance and repair.
Innovation and Technology in Agribusiness
Precision farming, autonomous combines and sprayers, precision planting, and the use of drones are all rapidly transforming Bulgaria’s agricultural sector as Bulgarian farmers are quickly embracing new technologies and services designed to help farmers maximize the benefits and advantages of forecasting yields and making planting corrections in real-time. U.S. exporters are encouraged to get ahead of the competition and market their innovative products through a reliable representative.
Trade Events in Bulgaria in 2023
BATA AGRO https://bata-agro.com/en/ May 2024 (exact dates TBD)
Organized by the Bulgarian Association of Traders of Agromachinery, the exhibition is the largest annual Bulgarian trade show for agricultural machinery, irrigation systems, wood and wood processing and other related agribusiness goods, services, and solutions.
AGRA https://www.tradefairdates.com/Agra-M8981/Plovdiv.html Feb 2024 (exact dates TBD)
AGRA is an annual agricultural trade exhibition in Plovdiv. It is one of Eastern Europe’s most significant fairs of its kind, offering the latest technology and emerging trends. AGRA offers a mix of research and production, as well as producers and consumers. In addition to the exhibition, there are meetings, seminars, conferences, and presentations.
U.S. Commercial Service Sofia Contact Information
Name: Alexander Sandev
Position: Commercial Specialist