SOFIA (AP) – The rose-picking season started last week in Bulgaria’s Rose Valley, promising a record production of oil for the world’s highest-grade perfume, officials said. For the first time this season, rose petals will be picked from a total of 3,500 hectares of gardens, said Nedko Nedkov, director of the Institute of the Rose in Kazanlak, the center of the Rose Valley. «The government has invested some -50 million in the last five years to increase the rose plantations by 2,500 hectares, and fueled almost the same amount in the creation of new rose oil distilleries,» Nedkov said. Picking the petals and extracting the rose oil is labor intensive and involves steam distillation from the rose blossom. The total production of rose oil this year could reach a record 2,500 kilograms, compared to 1,500 kg last year. Bulgarian rose oil is traditionally used for the highest-grade perfume in the world. Main buyers are the United States, France, Japan and Switzerland. The prices of rose oil on the global market reach some -4,000 per kg. It is generally accepted that there are more than 5,000 varieties of roses, yet only a few of them exhibit the fragrance prized by perfumers.