We created the first digital platform for agricultural land management
Over 1 million Bulgarians abroad can now trade their land online
- Mr. Georgiev, how did the pandemic and the related social isolation measures affect the business of the largest land management company Agrion?
- Globally, there is hardly a business that has been positively affected by this crisis, with a few exceptions. COVID-19 has literally erased billions from the world economic map, no matter if we are talking about real estate or car manufacturing.
Agriculture, the real estate market in which Agrion is the strongest, has not remained an isolated island, although it has traditionally been one of the most conservative areas.
Against the background of the rest of the business, however, it did not seem to have been affected to such an extent. As you can see, there was no food crisis, the shops were full of Bulgarian goods. This shows that agriculture is one of the most sustainable industries and has huge potential.
The good news is that the crisis is catalyzing more and more technological solutions. The situation today allows us to accelerate digitalization and focus on faster implementation of technological solutions.
And this is not just a Bulgarian phenomenon. Investment in technology and services related to digital transformation will increase globally by 10.4% in 2020, reaching $ 1.3 trillion.
- How are digital services introduced in land relations?
- In recent years, Agrion has made special efforts in this direction. We saw the potential for digitalization before anyone else in this market, and during the crisis we took the opportunity to launch the best platform for agricultural land management. We have functionally completed our website, www.agrion.bg, which has been one of the preferred channels for communication with our clients and partners. Our investment in this direction has helped us not to lose pace and to be available and prepared even in this extremely difficult situation for the country and the world.
We put all our efforts into it and managed to create a complete digital environment in which we will now and in the future offer all services related to land management. Our goal is for the client to feel that he is in contact with a real consultant, albeit in the online space. To be able to present the necessary documents, to receive a consultation in real time.
We have activated a special chat, during which everyone can ask a question and get their answer. We trained the teams to welcome their clients in a virtual environment. And now we are reaping the fruits of that - people's interest is growing by leaps and bounds every day.
- What services are you going to develop through this platform?
- We rely on the services in which we have proven to be a market leader: free land valuation, leasing and renting of agricultural land, purchase and sale, land swaps, legal advice for owners, landlords and farmers. It is no coincidence that Agrion is the most recognizable brand among farmers and landowners in the country. Because we have proven that we work effectively, and now we choose to offer our services in the safest way for both our employees and our customers.
I would like to tell our clients and partners the following: “Agrion continues to work hard for you and to support the realization of your dreams. For your even greater convenience, now we also offer the opportunity to manage your land almost entirely online”.
Each year, the number of our customers increases, as they see for themselves that Agrion's services are honest and transparent. The interest is huge and we are pleased that more and more people who are interested in agriculture are choosing Agrion as a partner and that most of our new customers come on the recommendation of their relatives and friends who have already done business with our company.
- Do you expect to get more customers after developing this platform?
- This is already happening. The fact that we were available throughout the isolation, while others were not prepared for an adequate response, calmed our partners and gave them courage. Our site www.agrion.bg is accessible to people from all over the world. More than 1 million Bulgarians live abroad. These people are landowners but also buyers. They are looking for a place to invest their money, and the land has proven to be the best investment asset, even in times of crisis.
I hope that this digital platform will unlock the market to young people who are currently interested in agriculture but do not know how to get started. For them we can give consultations, offer agricultural land with which to start their first farm. It can be rented or sold on installment. The opportunities we offer are huge, as long as there are people interested in them.
- Has the crisis with COVID 19 led to greater interest in agricultural land?
- In the first months there was a slight stagnation. The reason is that in agriculture, personal contact is extremely important, and people were locked in their homes. In the last month we have seen some movement, which we hope will become a trend. This crisis has shown something extremely important around the world - local resources are the most valuable engine of the economy. For several years there has been talk of short supplies or short chains in agriculture. When the borders are closed, the supplier must be at arm’s length. This is especially true for the foods that are consumed every day, but also for medical devices, medicines, many goods that we cannot do without.
On the other hand, more and more people have found that city life holds its risks. There is a trend for returning back to the villages, to the small settlements, where the dangers are much less. It is only a matter of time before these people invest in land and develop their own farms. So, I am optimistic about Bulgarian agriculture and the land market.
- And would this affect the land prices?
- Before the crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the agricultural land market was slightly shrinking. At that time, the tendency to increase the price of agricultural land was expected to continue and it would have been 5-7% on an annual basis. But the crisis has slightly pushed prices down.
Let's hope there is no second wave of the pandemic in the fall, so that the market can stabilize and self-regulate.
The fact that land is a “safe” asset should not be overlooked.
Many people and companies that have accumulated funds will prefer to invest in agricultural land, given the risks with other instruments - such as securities or real estate, for example, and last but not least because of the tax breaks.
Once there is no stress in the land market, there will be no stress in rents and they will remain stable. The expected decline in yields from this not-so-good year, as it is seemingly going to be in Dobrudja and the Black Sea coast regions, will not lead to a drop. On the contrary - good yields from some crops can bring an increase in the traditional range of 3-4% per year.
- Should we invest in land?
- I would say: invest, but carefully. Land is a specific asset and its price depends on many factors - location, whether it is cultivated, what are the average rents in the region, what crops are suitable for this area. Sometimes you may end up with some completely useless land that will not bring you income. Therefore, I always advise people to consult a specialist if they want to buy, rent or sell agricultural land. Agrion experts will provide the best advice for each specific land.
In recent years, we have seen exactly this trend - people who have certain financial means, invest in land and the profit they gain is much higher than bank deposits, where interest rates have become negative.
- What should be the lesson of this crisis for the Bulgarian agriculture?
- One of the sustainable ways for development of Bulgaria lies in precision agriculture and the application of digital technologies. These are the most influential trends in the agricultural sector in Europe, and as a small country we can implement them quickly and effectively. Precision farming has the potential to help farmers get higher yields, have less damage to their crops and consume fewer valuable resources, such as water, fuel and fertilizers. In addition, technology can reduce greenhouse gases and achieve higher environmental standards in agriculture.