Ukrainian sunflowers will not be supplied to Bulgaria's market, despite crushers' pleas

20 Sep 2023 | Anna Platonova

Bulgaria's government has held lengthy negotiations with the country's farmers over proposed imports of Ukrainian sunflower seeds as the country attempts to plug a potential gap in supply, trade sources have told Agricensus Wednesday.  

The talks are understood to have concluded late Tuesday with a decision to block any imports amid strike action from Bulgarian farmers - and against a backdrop of wider discontent over the impact of cross-border trade in the region.

“Difficult negotiations between farmers and the government took place last night,” one Bulgaria-based broker told Agricensus, Wednesday.

“Our prime minister stated that there will be no import of sunflower seeds from Ukraine, especially until some kind of quarterly or licensing system is established between Bulgaria and Ukraine,” the broker added.

That comes despite the fact that Bulgaria needs Ukrainian sunflowers after hot, dry conditions pared back the country's production prospects and left the country's crushers repeatedly calling for help to secure supply.  

However, the government caved in to the farmers amid an ongoing disagreement over the impact that imports of Ukrainian agricultural commodities - displaced by Russia's invasion of Ukraine - have had on neighbouring EU markets.

“Bulgaria needs the seeds, but the farmers are in a strong position to bargain - they have money and political influence on a local level and we have local elections in a month,” a trader based in Bulgaria said.

That comes against the backdrop of the fact that EU countries, and Bulgaria in particular, expect a reduction in the sunflower harvest due to the hot summer conditions.

According to September estimates of the sunflower harvest by local Bulgarian companies, Bulgaria in the 2022/23 season will harvest a sunflower crop of 1.7-1.8 million mt, and in Romania around 2.3 million mt, which is lower than August expectations by 17% and 11 .5% respectively.

At the same time, contracts that were concluded for the supply of sunflower seeds to Bulgaria are frozen at this stage and are awaiting a final decision from the Bulgarian government.

A week earlier, on September 14, the Bulgarian government voted to lift the temporary ban on the import of Ukrainian grains and oilseeds from September 15, and this decision had to be approved by the European Commission.

After Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine and the blockade of Ukrainian ports, which made exporting sunflower oil by sea impossible, Ukrainian farmers were forced to sell sunflowers for export.

According to the Ministry of Agrarian Policy, in the 2021/22 and 2022/23 seasons, Ukraine exported 1.63 million mt and almost 1.9 million mt of sunflower, respectively.
In the first half of the 2022/23 season, before the introduction of a temporary ban on imports from five EU countries bordering Ukraine, 79% of the total volume of Ukrainian sunflower exports for the season, or 1.5 million mt, went to EU countries.

According to the Ministry of Agrarian Policy of Ukraine, supplies of Ukrainian sunflower to Bulgaria in the 2022/23 season amounted to 493,027 mt, which is 33% of the total volume of Ukrainian sunflower exports to EU countries.