Bulgaria is renowned for sheep's milk cheese, oriental tobacco, wine, rose attar (used in perfumery), vegetables, fruit, medicinal herbs, and, particularly, natural yogurt. The temperate climate, abundant arable land, and soil conditions support the farming of both livestock and crops (grains, oil seeds, sugar beets, vegetables, grapes, fruit), but the country was affected by drought in the late 1990s and into 2000. Tobacco is among the most important of Bulgaria's crops, contributing nearly 20 percent to the value of agricultural goods. The principal timber areas are in the Rila, Rhodope, and Balkan Mountains. The fishing industry, which in the 1980s operated a large ocean fleet, is currently depressed. All told, the agricultural sector was estimated to account for 21 percent of the GDP in 1999 and to employ 26 percent of the workforce. Although estimations for the labor force were not available, the percentage of the GDP the sector contributed dropped slightly by 2000 to 15 percent.
Although historically a surplus food producer, Bulgarian agriculture was facing a downturn at the turn of the century. Cropland, livestock population, and yields were declining (limited use of fertilizers, however, has led to cleaner rivers and sea water). Animal feed is imported and its shortage has led to distress slaughtering, the killing of livestock in the face of a shortage of feed. The price of agricultural goods is not rising in line with inflation. Imported subsidized vegetables, fruit, dairy products, and meat from the EU adversely affect local producers. Restitution of collective farmland to private owners has been complicated and considerable collective farm assets were lost in the process. New private holdings are too small and can only be serviced with technical equipment or irrigated if their owners band together, but such efforts are proving slow to develop.
Price liberalization should encourage more output, especially as income gradually rises. Agriculture has the potential to make Bulgaria again basically self-sufficient in grains, and prospects are excellent for further increases in hard currency earnings from wine and dairy products, particularly cheese.