Slovenian Feed Industry Looks to Be Hidden Champion at Central Europe’s Doors

Editor’s note: The event featured in this story took place prior to the USSEC travel ban due to COVID-19.
Unlike more established markets from western Europe, Slovenia has a relatively young but stable feed and livestock industry, supplying food and exports for the 2-million-person nation located in the southeastern part of emerging Europe. The country joined the European Union in 2004 and adopted the euro three years later. It still has much to offer. In 2019, Slovenia resumed U.S. soybean meal imports through the Port of Koper, distributing to local and neighboring countries’ feed companies.
In an effort to follow up with recent developments and with the goal to explore market opportunities and potential expansion for U.S. Soy in Slovenia, USSEC regional consultant Dr. Iani Chihaia and USSEC animal utilization consultant Dr. Jan van Eys visited Slovenia during the second week of February. Meeting with Slovenian customers offered the chance to learn that despite the long absence from the market, the country’s industry is still grateful for the past contributions, training, and support from the American Soybean Association (ASA) and USSEC.
Situated at the doors of central Europe, Slovenia is a relatively small country, but played a crucial role in the stability and development of the former Yugoslav countries. Soybean meal is the main protein source for the well-developed feed and livestock industry. As Slovenia does not have a crushing facility, it relies entirely on imports from surrounding countries for soybean and soy oil. For the few past decades, all soybeans have been imported and the market is primarily served by international traders based in Italy.

Stojan Hergouth, chairman of Jata Emona (left), Natas Jelercic, technical manager of the group (middle), and USSEC consultant Dr. Iani Chihaia (right) at the company’s headquarters in Ljubljana, Slovenia

While in Slovenia to promote U.S. Soy, Dr. van Eys and Dr. Chihaia had a very productive visit with the Jata-Emona, the largest feed mill company in the country, which has its main production site and headquarters in the proximity of the capital city, Ljubljana. Welcomed by Stojan Hergouth, the chairman of Jata Emona, and Natasa Jelercic, the technical manager of the group, the USSEC consultants had the chance to learn firsthand information regarding the status and possible developments of the feed industry and opportunities for U.S. Soy in Slovenia and in the region.

Stojan Hergouth and Dr. van Eys in front of the main feed mill of Jata Emona group, based in proximity of Ljubljana, Slovenia
Dr. Jan van Eys and Dr. Chihaia visited with Aleš Perme (middle), the owner of the largest soy trading company in Slovenia

With a GDP per capita of €24,670 in 2018, the country showed an 11.63% increase over 2017. In this respect, it is lower than the average EU27 GNP/capita, but its growth is significantly larger. The consequences for the future and future food and feed, including soybean consumption is evident. Livestock production is proportional to Slovenia’s size and relatively small population. Broiler is the main soy consumer industry while swine production showed the characteristic shrink in production after the separation from former Yugoslavia. Additionally, the feed industry is using sunflower and rape out of Hungary and other Central-East European countries. Corn is the main grain used in animal feeding in Slovenia and is originated from local production and imports from Hungary and Croatia.
Another strength of Slovenia is its excellent location at the doors of Central Europe and the access to the Port of Koper, an important port in the Adriatic Sea. Located in the northern part of the Adriatic Sea, the Port of Koper mainly connects the markets of Central and Southeast Europe with the Mediterranean Sea and Far East. Differently from other European ports, which are managed by port authorities, the activities of the Port of Koper comprise the management of the free zone area, the management of the port area, and the role of terminal operator. Over 2000 vessels arrive every year and the Port of Koper, which is also the busiest container terminal in the Adriatic with a transshipment of almost 845,000 container units per year. Among the ports of the North Adriatic Ports Association, Koper was followed by Italy's Venice with just below 606,000 container units, Italy's Trieste with some 486,000 units, and Croatia's Rijeka with around 214,000 units.

he Port of Koper provides a logistics advantage for the neighboring countries: imported soybean meal is delivered from Slovenia to neighboring Hungary, Croatia, and Austria, while grains produced in Hungary are exported through the same port terminal
Soy discharging at the dry bulk terminal of Port of Koper
Soybean meal flat storage facilities at the Port of Koper

All the strengths and advantages of Slovenia might be considered for U.S. Soy expansion into the sub-regional market. Consequently, the presence of USSEC in certain industry activities, as well as the organization of a technical workshops and seminars on soy differentiation should be supported and is highly recommended. A sustained effort by USSEC to capture and sustain the positive momentum that resulted from the activity should see results in increased imports of U.S. soy products in these, and surrounding countries from the West Balkans and Central Europe.