Originally intended for the production of stonefruit, Turkish producer Özler Ziraat’s land in Romania has now been transformed into a major walnut operation

Around 20 years ago, Turkish producer Özler Ziraat was initially eyeing land in Romania for the purpose of producing stonefruit. However, unforeseen challenges encouraged the company to amend its plans, eventually deciding on the production of walnuts instead, Özler Ziraat’s first foray into nuts.

Mehmet Ozler

Mehmet Özler

“We bought the land just before Romania entered the EU,” says the company’s Mehmet Özler. “We thought we could do stonefruit there and close the gap between the end of the citrus season in Turkey and the start of the next one. But stonefruit is very labour-intensive, and then after integration into the EU a lot of Romanians left to work in other European countries. So we decided to go into something that was more mechanised and less labour-intensive.”

Availability of workers is an issue almost everywhere, says Özler, even in Turkey. “If it weren’t for the refugees that came in to country from Syria, the fruit industry would be in huge trouble,” he says. “Right now most of the harvest workers are Syrian. They are not skilled so they need to be trained. After the earthquake in Turkey, a lot of labour has been absorbed into the reconstruction effort.”

According to Özler, the first walnuts from the company’s Romanian orchards are now available. “This is going to be a major operation,” he says. “We started acquiring the land back in 2003 and 2004. We experimented a little, but about six years ago, we started planting walnuts. We have about 200ha. This year we are close to full production.”