Today we are in the village of Boeritsa, located in a beautiful hillside of Sredna Gora, 9 km from the town of Ihtiman. The village attracts with its natural resources. In its outskirts are the remains of Thracian and Roman settlements.
Here the brothers Svetozar and Viktor Gichevi create and are developing their farm with purebred imported animals of the Simmental breed. The farm is only 3 years old, but impresses with its large-scale construction and technical base. A lot of money and effort has been invested and this is obvious at first glance. We have a meeting with one of the owners – Svetozar Gichev to make us part of his daily life. We wait for him to finish the milking, and during this time we enjoy the purebred animals and the panorama view.
Since he milks the animals himself, Svetozar manages to receive us in an hour and we sit together in the office, which the two brothers have literally turned into their second home.
Hello, Mr. Gichev, thank you for taking the time for us! Tell us about yourself.
Hello, welcome! My name is Svetozar Gichev and I am a veterinarian. I will soon be 40 years old. In 2017, my brother Victor and I created the farm we are in now.
It is very impressive! Whose idea was to create the farm?
The idea was mine and my family fully supported me. After graduating, I worked for 5 years in a cow farm near Yambol and my stay there encouraged me to start my own farm. The truth is that in the beginning we did not realize how difficult it is to maintain and develop a farm in Bulgaria. We had very high expectations and ambitions. Over time, however, it turned out that in our reality raising animals is a real heroism, accompanied by constant difficulties and return to survival!
How many animals are currently on the farm and what is their origin?
Currently, the farm has over 150 purebred Simmental animals and all are imported from Austria. We choose this breed, because is with complex purpose – for milk and meat. Initially, we intended to breed male animals for fattening, but since this turned out to be a very unprofitable investment, we now are selling them for breeding and due to the origin of the animals, the demand is high.
We have concentrated on raising animals for milk, which is also a serious challenge in Bulgaria. In the West, people become millionaires just by selling male animals for beef. Here, however, no one is interested in the high quality of the milk, and the consumers are only looking for the lowest price on the stand. In general, this is the State of the Absurd! Everyone wants organic production, and it is not stimulated in any way. No one fertilizes with natural fertilizer. There is no certification of milk from ecologically clean farms with purebred animals and it is sold at the price of that from farms that spit out huge quantities without any control at the expense of quality.
Tell us about the technology of breedins
We keep the animals in a free-stall barn. They eat feed that we buy by prescription, but we change them over time. There is currently a shortage of certain feeds and we have to replace them with others, which of course affects the quantity and quality of milk. We use a feed trailer.
We have a milking hall, but unfortunately we have to work in it ourselves almost 24/7! The crisis with finding workers is our biggest problem! The state does not help us in this regard at all and instead of developing a business, we only have time for the daily work on the farm, and it never ends.
We inseminate only artificially. We have a bull, but so far we have no offspring from it.
Did you build the farm with your own funds?
The farm is financed with its own funds and through the “Rural Development Program 2014-2020” of the State Fund for Agriculture, sub-measure 4.1 – “Investment in agricultural holdings”. We had to take additional loans unfortunately.
You have been a member of NARMS since last year. Are you getting the help you need and what are the benefits?
We receive assistance and regular visits, and this is the only way to apply for grants that we have not yet taken advantage of. Unlike other associations, NARMS provides information and has a much stronger connection with its members.
But, in my opinion, the control of raw milk should be increased. And the control itself to be controlled. Currently, 2 samples are being taken – from the dairy and the farmer, but neither side has any interest in the result being real. There must be a third party to verify the results – independent and objective. Only in this way will the quality products stand out and receive an adequate price. I believe that the Association could make this commitment and guarantee the reliability of the results.
My recommendations are to learn from foreign experience and for the Association to protect and unite us against the chaos that reigns. In Bulgaria, someone who has no idea of our work makes decisions, and we are not even notified. We learn about these decisions post-factum, when it is too late to react. In this regard, access to information and dialogue between colleagues are areas in which work can be done.
The State has not helped or protected us in any other way at the moment, apart from the fact that we have applied for a program and have been given back the funds invested by us. We applied for land last year and whether out of ignorance or intentionally, the employees of the state administration provided us with the wrong application form and accordingly we were denied. Absolute nonsense!
This year the situation repeated, but since I was already prepared, we submitted the correct form. Either incompetent and ignorant people work, or all sorts of attempts are deliberately thwarted in order for people to give up and get on as well as they can. At the same time, people who do not even have animals receive land. In our village, apart from our animals, there are only 3 cattle herda, and we are not given land with an argument that we have not used the correct form, which we received from them!
How would you describe the reality of the young farmer?
Work, work and again work! From sunrise to midnight and only problems – with suppliers of food and equipment, with workers, with the state. If you buy fodder and it turns out to be unfit, you have no one to complain to. The losses are at my own expense. No one is defending our rights! At least we have no problems with the dairy at the moment. We have loyal partners who are looking for quality, not quantity. This is a rarity in Bulgaria. However, we are in solidarity with our colleagues in other regions, because usually dairies want to get hold of any white liquid they can, without being interested in the indicators. There is no surcharge for fat and protein. It is not normal to buy milk with a fat content of 2.5% at the same price as ours, which is 4.5% and above. The state must participate in the regulation of prices, as it controls fuels, for example.
Do you think that cattle breeders in Bulgaria are sufficiently active and united in defending and defending their rights?
I will not forget years ago at a protest in Greece, people there had put up posters that read “Don’t shout too much not to wake the Bulgarians!”… Obviously we are all happy with the reality if we do not react in any way. Everyone grumbles, but no one does anything. Obviously, survival suits us. We would take an active part in any attempt by colleagues to engage in dialogue with the State, protest or unite. Unfortunately, the protests in Bulgaria are already very flawed!
There are regions where there is only one dairy and you either agree with the conditions, or you drive your milk somewhere else with your own car. People have no choice and their arms are twisted undisturbed. In our country, everything is like that – as in the traffic police – when there are holes on the road, they are not filled, but speed limit decreases.
But, the most serious problem is the lack of worker. Specialists are not produced, and in order to keep workers on the farms, we have to provide unbearable. The state could stimulate animal husbandry by taking part of the salaries of employees to relieve us and give us the opportunity to think and act for the development and technical security of the farm. It is absolutely impossible for us to find workers. We put in a huge amount of hard work that remains invisible. Even the best quality product is unsaleable when there is yellow cheese of BGN 7.80 next to it on the stand. The consumers are not educated to evaluate the quality.
In Austria, they have solved the problem by passing a law that in shops 80% of the products must be produced in diaries which are located on less than 80 km from the store. This strongly supports small producers. There, local production is protected by a special logo, and consumers prefer these products, despite the higher price, because they know that in this way they stimulate local business and are proud of it. In Bulgaria this is impossible! Here, folk psychology is directed in exactly the opposite direction and we can say that we are sabotaging ourselves.
You described a very pessimistic picture. How do you still find motivation to continue?
However, I believe that with ppositivity and hard work we will achieve a modern production for clean and quality products.
What advice would you give to people who are just starting out on your journey?
To be prepared for many obstacles and deprivations. I hope that over time, however, things will change in the right direction.
Thank you for making us sympathetic to the problems of the Bulgarian farmer. We wish you success in every endeavor!
It was a plesure for me!