Zoia Romaniuc. About super-intensive orchards, the latest technologies and prospects for agriculture in Moldova

Pavel Zingan, in an interview with Zoia Romaniuc, director of Peasant Household (G.T.) Romaniuc Zoia, a maib business customer.

Zoia, hello! You run a peasant household. What direction in agriculture do you work in, and how long have you been involved in it?

Hello! It's a family business that I started with my husband. Now, our eldest son is actively participating, and our youngest, due to his age, cannot yet join in all the processes. Still, he is also interested in our joint business. We have gone through many stages and processes over the 25 years of our family business. We started by buying and selling apples from local farmers, exporting only to Russia then. After 10 years of doing this, we realised it was time to change the business approach radically. Since Moldova is an agricultural country and our greatest wealth is our land and people, we decided to invest in our orchards. We bought 25 ha of land, on which we planted 7.5 ha of cherries and, on the rest of the land - apples.

An orchard is an investment that requires expense and time. When did you harvest your first crop?

Orchards take about 4 years to start fruiting. During this time, to avoid running out of money, we continued our previous work of buying and selling apples while learning all the orcharding techniques. For my husband and me, this was a new field of activity. Everything had to be learned practically, but we were convinced we would succeed.

As I understand it, you decided not to stop on the volumes with which you started.

Seven years ago, we had the opportunity to purchase a warehouse space and 30 hectares of old orchard. Around the same time, our young orchard started to sprout, andwe had the harvest from the newly purchased orchard. We still could not ensure the export of 100% of the harvest, so the need arose to keep the fruit and berries in the fridge. On the agricultural scale, a refrigerator is not just a machine for storing and cooling the harvest but an ample space that includes many components, such as a sorting area, showers, a cloakroom, an employee dining room and more. A 2.5 thousand tonne refrigerator design has been drawn up, meeting all modern requirements and standards.

Has this been your first investment in modernising the family business?

Yes, the first and one of the biggest. We understood that we needed modernising agriculture to be competitive and that it would stagnate eventually. Modern farming differs significantly from what farmers did 10, 20 and 30 years ago. That's why we decided to invest in new equipment and modern orchards. Since the investment in building a refrigerator required large financial outlays, we started looking for possibilities to get a loan. We approached several banks, analysed various offers and opted for a loan from maib. We were offered the most advantageous loan conditions, and they trusted our project and us. At the beginning of 2020, we started construction, and after a few months, the COVID-19 pandemic started, which shocked us all, but we didn't stopdespite the risks. In the end, the construction was completed on time, and this season, we stored our apples in the fridge for the first time and rented the free space to local farmers.

Did your first positive experience with significant investments inspire you?

Yes, we understood this is an effective and real development method. In 2022, we applied again to maib for another loan to purchase an apple sorting line and install solar panels on the refrigerator. The loan was approved, which allowed us to buy a Dutch apple sorting line and install solar panels. We have been obtaining alternative energy for two seasons, which has helped us greatly during the sharp price rise for all energy resources.

The energy crisis has not been the only one you have faced recently. The war in Ukraine has certainly prompted you to look for new markets.

Indeed, all established supply chains have been disrupted, and we have realised that we need to focus on new markets, which in turn require different standards of quality and taste. So, our next investment was in orchards. In 2023, we approached maib again for financing, which we planned to use to plant new orchards using modern technology to access new markets - the European, Saudi Arabian and UAE markets. The bank met our needs once again, and thanks to the loan, we were able to plant 10 ha of super-intensive orchards using the latest agricultural technology.

What does "super-intensive orchard " mean? For most people, this term is not clear.

One of the main differences between a super-intensive orchard and a traditional orchard is the planting density of seedlings per 1 ha. On average, the density of a super-intensive orchard is 4 times or more than a typical orchard's. These modern orchards must have special supports, irrigation systems, anti-hail nets and other elements. We have planted 10 ha of super-intensive Italian cherry orchard, and the crop will be able to compete adequately with European producers. We still have to modernise the apple orchards, a long, complex, and costly process, but we will continue.

What plans do you have for the near future?

We have an ambitious project that we are striving to realise shortly. One of the acute problems in our region is the lack of quality water for irrigating orchards. We are currently working on a project to pipe water from the Dniester. Not only do we have to pump this water to our orchards, but it also has to go through a series of filtration stages to be suitable for irrigation. Of course, the irrigation system itself must also be installed. Step by step, we want to realise our plans, and we are ready to continue to find opportunities to invest in the land we love, in the people who work with us and to demonstrate that Moldova is a country where agricultural business can and should be developed.

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