BUCHAREST, ROMANIA — Romania is on the Black Sea and a member of the European Union, a geopolitical situation that has put it at the center of events in recent months as Ukraine, fighting off Russia’s invasion, has sought new ways to bring its grain to market. 

In its Oct. 20 Grain Market Report, the International Grains Council (IGC) put Romania’s total production of grains at 20.2 million tonnes in 2022-23, revised down from an earlier forecast of 21.1 million, compared with 27.2 million in 2021-22

The country’s wheat production is forecast at 9 million tonnes, down from 11.3 million the year before. The maize crop is forecast at 8.8 million, revised down by a million from the previous month, against 12.9 million for 2021-22. Romania’s 2022-23 barley production is 2 million tonnes, revised up from 1.8 million and compared with 3 million the year before.

The IGC also forecasts a 2022-23 rapeseed crop of 1.1 million tonnes, previously forecast at 1.2 million, compared with 1.4 million the year before. Its crop of sunflower seed is put at 2.6 million tonnes, a figure the Council revised up in its October report from an earlier forecast of 2.4 million and which compared with 2.8 million tonnes the year before.

No separate figure is given for Romania’s soybean production in the IGC report, but according to EU grain and oilseeds trade organization COCERAL, the country’s output in 2022 is 420,000 tonnes, up from 410,000 in 2021, the increase being entirely the result of an increase in yield, with area unchanged. The figure makes Romania the European Union’s second largest producer, behind Italy.

Romania was not exempt from Europe’s hot summer. In an update by USDA attaches EU-wide, dated July 29, they wrote that “Winter grain production in Romania has been revised down in response to dry and warm conditions during the latest stages of plant development, depleting soil moisture,” adding that “While in the west counties May and June rainfall helped kernel filling, yields are expected to be considerably lower in Romania’s eastern grain growing counties due to lack of moisture.” 

The same report commented on the effect of events on prices. 

“Industry sources relate the relatively lower grain prices in eastern EU Member States (namely Poland and Romania) to the influx of grain from Ukraine, which remains in the region until it can be exported to countries in need,” it said.

Ukraine impact 

Romania’s position on the Black Sea means that its role in international grain trade has increased dramatically with the Russian attack on Ukraine. The Feb. 24 invasion and subsequent blockade by Russia of Ukraine’s Black Sea ports triggered a switch by Ukraine’s grain exports to Romanian ports, particularly Constanţa. 

Despite a UN-brokered deal under which Ukrainian grain shipments get safe passage through the Black Sea, designed to ensure supplies to the world market, Ukraine continues to export via Romania. The news agency Reuters reported on Sept. 28 that “Ukraine continues to ship grain across the Danube to the Romanian Black Sea port of Constanţa even after some of its own ports reopened, and the new routes are likely to remain,” citing as source the deputy chief executive of freight logistics group TTS, Ion Stanciu. 

The European Union has been working to facilitate grain exports by land from Ukraine through a system of “solidarity lanes” with some success, while it was reported on Sept. 12 that the governments of France and Romania had signed a deal on facilitating grain exports from Ukraine by land. 

The new service Ukrinform quoted French Transport Minister Clément Beaune as saying on Twitter that “I and my Romanian colleague Ionel Scriosteanu have signed an agreement that facilitates the Ukrainian grain exports through providing our logistical expertise.” 

On Sept. 9, the European Commission approved a €4 billion (approximately 19.7 billion lei) scheme proposed by the Romanian government in response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The money will be distributed across sectors, in the form of loan guarantees and direct grants. In agriculture, the direct grants can be up to a maximum of €62,000 per beneficiary.

Milling sector

According to the European Flour Millers, there are 120 mills processing more than 2,000 tonnes (wheat equivalent) a year out of 300, although it also noted the existence of 800 other mills, dealing direct with farmers. The largest flour mills are in Constanţa and Bacău, with capacity over 800 tonnes a day. Important players include Boromir, 7 Spice, Pambac, Dobrogea, Sam Mills, Goodmills, Mp Baneasa, Agrochirnogi, Oltina and Farisan.

Total flour production is 1.1 million tonnes of common wheat flour and 5,000 tonnes of rye flour. Capacity utilization is put at 45%. The industry uses 1.6 million tonnes of common wheat and 6,000 tonnes of rye. 

About 90% of the wheat used by flour millers is domestically produced, with the rest coming from Hungary, Bulgaria and Ukraine. Bread consumption is put at 85 kilograms per person, per year.

Biofuels and biotech

Romania made changes to its biofuels rules to accommodate producers struggling because of the pandemic but has not yet changed anything in response to the war in Ukraine.

The attaché reported on April 30, 2020, that the Romanian government had approved exemptions to biofuel mandates in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. A July 5, 2022, report covering the European Union as a whole, said that “fuel suppliers in Romania were able to apply for exemptions from the blending mandates for the period of April 16 through May 14, 2020.” 

Unlike some other EU Member States, the report did not contain any changes for Romania in response to the Russian attack on Ukraine. Romania’s ethanol blending mandate is 8% for gasoline, with a biodiesel blending mandate of 6.5% for diesel fuel. 

“Romania is in the process of transposing RED II into Romanian national legislation,” the recent report said, referring to the Union’s revised Renewable Energy Directive, covering 2021-30, with an overall renewable energy target of 32% by 2030 and a 14% target for the transport sector, but with a cap for food- and feed-based biofuels.

In a report on the biotechnology sector in Romania dated Oct. 20, 2021, the USDA attaché described Romania as “one of the European Union’s most progressive and pro-science Member States regarding agricultural biotechnology.” However, they also noted that “currently, Romanian farmers cultivate no commercial biotech crops, but they widely use imported genetically engineered (GE) soybean meal as a livestock feed ingredient.”

 “Romanian farmers are hopeful that favorable changes in the EU legal framework will allow Romania to respond to the future challenges posed by climate change,” the attaché added. “Romania allows the development of GE plant products,” the report said, adding that “there is no commercial GE plants or crops currently under development in Romania.”

“Romanian farmers have not planted GE corn since 2015,” the attaché said. “The segregation, co-existence, market certification, and traceability requirements, as well as lower insect pressure, are primarily the reasons farmers choose not to plant biotech Bt corn.”  

Since then, no genetically modified crops have been planted.

“Generally, over half of local soy production is exported to other EU markets, notably Germany and Austria, which have strong demand for non-GE feed ingredients,” the attaché said. “Russia and Turkey are the major non-EU markets. As the domestic production cannot meet local demand, Romania must import soybeans and soybean meal, of which nearly 90% is sourced from South America and the United States.”