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An EU farming perspective, from the far side



In the run up to the EU referendum, Romanian farmers give their opinion on the effects Brexit could have.

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Driving into the dusty farm town of Băileşti, in southwest Romani, tens of thousands of poppies swaying along the unfenced rickety roads, are beginning to wilt in the late spring sunshine.


Temperatures have already tipped thirty degrees centigrade here, and will settle around the mid to high thirties as summer sets in with a vengeance, over the next few weeks.


Everyone is involved in agriculture in some form or other in this region. Even the shopkeeper, with his neatly arranged coffins, tilted at an angle against his outdoor wall for customers to prod and peruse, has a few fields of vegetables.


He was just one amongst many rural Romanians in the city whom I asked recently how they felt about Brexit and Boris, to which came the resounding response, “Nu știu, nu stiu”, I don’t know, don’t know!


It’s not that they don’t care or are apathetic, it’s that genuinely have never heard they of Brexit, or Boris Johnson. Mention the EU though, and most believe it’s a gold plated godsend, providing badly needed injections of cash to support road building, rural projects, help fund irrigation schemes, or simply get water into their homes.


And at this time of the year water is more important than any other facet of life in this little know agricultural region of Dolj, which nestles in the east elbow of the mighty Danube and is bordered by Bulgaria and Bosnia, on its western banks.


On a nearby farm just outside the city, a new Israeli built drip irrigation system is being installed in field of maize, and monitored by Mr Romeo Daragan, of Romanian IPSO Agricultura. Based just outside Bucharest, Romeo is well aware of Borris and Brexit.


“I think the UK would be crazy to leave the EU,” he said. “Look at these cereal silos behind me, great Italian engineering, built by Romanian contractors, and that’s what’s helping our business grow too. Everyone benefits.”


His client, a Scot who farms in partnership with three German businessmen says getting water onto his crops makes all the difference to the profit margin.


“We’ve been here for fourteen years and it’s been a long haul, but we’ve worked at this very slowly. EU bureaucracy is time consuming and complex but we have definitely benefitted by being in the union, and utilising our water resources.”


It’s a far cry from the days under communism, when leader Nicolae Ceausescu created and implemented a master plan in the 1970s to irrigate 3 million hectares of collectivised and state farms across the south of the country. Today less than 25 per cent of this irrigated area remains in working order, and the actual use is very low.


Charlie Ashby who farms in partnership with his son in Northamptonshire, has been based in this region for nine years. He is irrigating potatoes for the first time on the loam rich soil of the vast plains.


“Water makes financial success in this region, if you can afford and manage it,” he said. “Many European interests arrived a decade ago on a get rich quick mission and got their fingers badly burned. Working within the EU, and Romanian framework, can be challenging, but ultimately it is beneficial to agricultural businesses and the entire community.”


A road hour north of Charlie’s farm the village of Radovan nestles below a west-facing terrace of obsolete vineyards. Nearby, German born Robin Friedman, who farms with his Father says he thinks the Brexit campaign is crazy.


“We are really sick of hearing about Brexit,” he said. “Five kilometres from our farms, the new main road, runs west from Craiova to Calafat, the river port on the Danube. Our grain is transported by barge to Western Europe markets from this link. Without EU support, this new road would not have happened.”


In the interests of journalistic balance I contacted to the Brexit office in London seeking a comment from Boris Johnston. None has been forthcoming!


I think it’s fair to suggest that it’s unlikely Boris has either visited, or heard of Băileşti, and would be unlikely to change his mind if he had. Metropolitan London is, after all, a very long way from these dry dusty plains.


A Romanian saying that comes to mind as the blustering pronouncements on both sides of the campaign get ever closer to voting day; “Porcul liniștit mănâncă cel mai mult” The quiet pig eats the most!


There are 8 million rich arable hectares here in southern Romania, which are slowly - and quietly - beginning to be re-irrigated, one drip at a time.


Farmers in the UK, take note!

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