Bulgaria: Tough year but good harvest for oil rose growers

If there is a sector in the Bulgarian economy, where Bulgaria has been among the global leaders for years, this is certainly the growing of oil-bearing roses, Rosa damascena and Alba, and the extraction of high-quality oil from their blossoms, which is used by the most famous and luxurious brands of perfumes and cosmetic products across the world. This is a boutique industry geographically locked in the Rose Valley and based mostly on tradition and confidence.

However, the new realities are about to disturb this harmony because the fight against the vagaries of nature has turned out to be but one of the minor challenges facing the sector. The pressing shortage of workforce is beginning to stifle farmers, halt the plans for growth and lead to missed benefits due to the non-gathered roses in the fields. The thefts of produce increase the costs on security. In addition to this, for some years now intermediaries have begun to interfere in the long-term relations between producers and processors.

As a result of this it will be increasingly difficult to find a crossing point, which will ensure a fair price for all participants in this business and, at the same time, will maintain the country’s competitiveness on the world markets.

Tough year but good harvest
Precisely at this time, in the beginning of June, the rose gathering campaign is at its peak. The working day at the Rose Valley begins at 5 am and ends at 11 am, when the pickers should have gathered the blossoms and put them in bags, which are then transported to the distilleries. According to experts, this year’s harvest is relatively good but the overall campaign is unusual. On the one hand, the cold weather in the winter and the low temperatures and showers in April caused frosting and deformation of the flowers as well as other problems at certain places.

H.E the Rose picker
There are several more serious problems at this level of the rose business. The biggest one is related to the shortage of rose pickers. The rose gathering lasts for several weeks only but requires tough effort. The problem has been particularly visible in the past 2-3 years because practically there is no unemployment in the region: on the one hand, the ordnance plants extend their operation and hire new people on full-time jobs and, on the other, competition about season workers between rose producers, local cherry producers and the tourist business at the Black Sea coast has been increasing as they also experience shortage of staff.

Farmers from Kazanluk identify another problem as well: many people categorically refuse to sign contracts, including one-day ones, which were introduced two years ago, over fear that they would lose their unemployment benefits. “We are virtually in a situation, where the rose pickers exert pressure on us not to declare our employment relations with them, while we face a sanction from the authorities for this violation,” a producer who would not be named commented.

The second serious problem in the sector is related to the thefts of produce, which frequent in the years of higher purchase prices. Although it is difficult to pick up a large amount of blossoms unlawfully during the night, this happens and since the offenders are in a hurry they could cause even greater damage. This forces some of the producers “to patrol” in the filed on turns or allocate funds for guards.

Normal prices are good news
The current harvest of oil-bearing roses will provide sufficient material for the processors but this will be a tough year for the business anyway. Following a serious decline in rose oil production in 2015 due to the bad weather, the situation was completely reversed in 2016. In the latter year prices increased drastically irrespective of the good harvest and a kilogram of roses was traded at 5-6 BGN and even at 7 BGN occasionally. This resulted in a shocking appreciation of rose oil, which exceeded the level of 10,000 euro/kg on the international markets. Certain producers even sold at the price of 12,000 euro and even 13,000 euro.

The high prices in the sector, however, are not a reason to rejoice. They could make the end clients – cosmetic companies withdraw and reduce or even fully remove the rose oil from their product formulas. Processors quote as an example the decline of the demand for lavender and iris oils on the international markets during the previous years as a result of the steep increase of their prices. Therefore, now it is important for the sector to ensure reasonable price levels that would allow the placement of the oil.

“Last year rose oil reached record-high price levels, which was not accepted very cordially on the international markets,” Nikolina Ouzounova, Executive Director of the Essential Oils, Perfumery and Cosmetics Bulgarian National Association, commented. She said that this year there are unsold amounts of oil from 2016, while the buyers have some quantities on stock, which means that it would be difficult to sell at high prices.

This year’s prices are not expected to exceed the historically highest levels because of the lower purchase prices of the rose blossoms as well. “The 2015 harvest was very poor, which caused the high prices last year,” said Milena Radeva, Chair of the Dobrila cooperative in Sopot. However, now prices have returned back to normal levels of 3.50 BGN/kg to 4.20 BGN/kg.

Traditionally, Bulgarian rose oil is traded in Germany, France, USA and Japan. China and a number of Arab countries have shown a higher interest in the recent years. Processors say that its application has been broadening, which opens new trading channels. According to Ouzounova, apart from perfumery and cosmetics, there has been an extended use of rose oil in pharmacy and aroma therapy in the recent years. In the Middle East, it is also used in the food and beverage industry.

At the same time, for some years now part of the distilleries have been diversifying their produce on the basis of oil-bearing roses. Apart from rose water, the share of products, such as rose concrete, has also been increasing.

The production of organic rose oil is another quickly developing segment. According to Agriculture Ministry data, in 2015 the areas under organic roses were 940 ha and the ones in transition to organic production – 550 ha. Therefore, the growth in this segment tripled in three years. Organic produce is purchased mostly by organic and baby cosmetics companies.

Source: Capital Weekly Newspaper, 9 June 2017 (www.capital.bg) / Agroberichten Buitenland

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