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With team spirit on the go for rice

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‘Newcomer’ might not be the right expression, though – in the 1980s, Hungrary grew rice on more than 15,000 ha of land. “But after the fall of the Iron Curtain it was merely 4,000 or 5,000 ha, and when Hungary became a member of the EU in 2004, the lowest point was reached with only about 3,200 ha,” recalls Gyula Fazekas, Member of the Board and Sales Director.

The company, which was formerly an AGR whose roots date back to the year 1948, is Hungary’s biggest rice producer and with 5,000 t generates around 50% of the country’s annual rice production. Next to rice, also cereals, sunflowers and corn are grown, and as well cattle and pigs are bred – Nagykun 2000 is an all-round agricultural holding.

Yet with 1,530 of all in all 5,000 ha, rice production is definitely in focus. The quality is excellent, as Mr. Fazekas proudly underlines: “Our rice as well as our organic rice that we farm on 330 ha is of such good quality that it is much in demand in western European markets like Germany, Switzerland, Italy, France and Spain, especially for baby food. Already in 2010, we had a turnover of 400 million HUF only from rice, in 2016 it was one billion HUF which is a very promising development.”

Today the company covers 80 to 85% of the Hungarian production of rice. Investment has been ongoing since the former AGR was privatized in 2000. “It is always about quality,” points out Mr. Fazekas. “Organic rice and conventional rice must not be mixed during the handling process. In 2008 we built our first processing plant and in 2012 bought the second. We have a drying system which makes sure that the different sorts of rice are not mixed. By this we could also address demanding western European customers.”

In 2013, Nagykun 2000 also started a rice mill for the production of rice flour dedicated to the local retail trade and food producers. “Rice is a valuable food,” points out the Sales Director who has more than 30 years of experience in the business. “It is gluten-free, a characteristic which today is very important because so many consumers suffer from gluten intolerance.”

Gyula Fazekas’ scope of responsibility is wide: He is responsible for supervising the handling process as well as the support of trade relations, sales and marketing. But just as well he is aware of the responsibility for the company’s 130 employees: “Secure jobs are of major importance,” he stresses. “Our company succeeded because the ownership is in the hands of the people who live here – we live here. What counts is to secure the jobs as well as the assets and the means of production – and to make sure that the company remains profitable. Until now we have managed this very well. We hope that it will stay like this also in the future and that one day, we can pass it on to young and creative successors.”

Nevertheless Mr. Fazekas has no illusions concerning the skills shortage – skilled staff are not easy to find, “Not only in the food sector, but in the agricultural sector as well, skilled-labor training just does not take a good direction,” as he puts it.

Despite this circumstance or perhaps precisely because of it, the Sales Director is enthusiastic about the corporate culture of the company: “We achieve our good results by working hard and by close cooperation, each and everybody with one another. We put a high stroke rate, but we stick together. It is still real team work that we provide.”

This spirit pays off: Since 2004, Nagykun 2000 has won more than ten EU applications and gained about 700 Million HUF of EU support, having made investments worth a total of 1.6 billion HUF.

Today, the company generates a total turnover of 3.5 billion HUF. In terms of investments, Mr. Fazekas stresses the necessity to integrate them into production at once: “It is necessary to keep up with technological evolution and maintain a profitable production process. With regard to rice seed and technology, Italy plays a leading role within the EU. This is the reason we equipped our first production plant with Italian technology, and we still maintain our contacts.”

No less important than evolution is its opposite: Preservation. “Preserving the soil as the biological basis for any growth is one of the main factors for sustainable management,” explains Mr. Fazekas. When asked about his personal motivation, he puts it into a simple, but very true answer: “A person’s value is defined by what he does in his life. Some things cannot be expressed by money or numbers. To be able to say that I could hand over something I have been involved in to the next generation is what makes me proud. For me this is what counts. Of course, living without financial concerns, being able to support one’s family is likewise important, but a job that brings about good results, the task to build up something that works, to realize plans together with one’s colleagues – all of this is actually very appealing and motivating.”

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