Saturday

23rd Mar 2019

Opinion

Nordic and Baltic farmers urgently need EU support

  • Farmers in the affected areas now need a promise that they will not be left to deal with the problems caused by extreme weather conditions on their own (Photo: European Parliament)

Agriculture is the single largest budget item in the European Union. Within a budget of more than €380bn, it is reasonable to expect a European ability to cope with crises and extraordinary events.

We hope that the Union will come forward with more initiatives to support farmers affected by this year's drought in northern Europe.

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  • Farmers’ incomes are already extremely low and are continuing to decline, risking the possibility of an exodus from rural areas, especially amongst the younger generation (Photo: Pixabay)

The ongoing heatwave in northern Europe has set several meteorological records. In many areas, we are experiencing the worst drought for decades. Many farmers have long passed the point where rain would make much difference – the damages to crops and grass for silage has already been done.

In many places, farmers face losses of half their harvest or more.

The effects are already evident.

Hay prices have soared. Cattle farmers are preparing to slaughter cows in anticipation of a fodder shortage in the autumn and the winter. The situation is also severe for pig farmers.

In addition to increased grain prices, there is a poor supply of enrichment materials. Thousands of families face economic difficulties when their annual income is dramatically reduced, but their costs remain.

Of course, agriculture, like other industries, must manage annual variations, and farmers should be expected to maintain a financial margin to manage such variations. However, the impact from the current heat and drought wave has exceeded dramatically any good farmer's reasonable expectations of preparedness.

The Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) has provided both security of supply and acceptable economic conditions for farmers. But the CAP must evolve as conditions change.

Probably, European farmers will see more extreme weather events, such as prolonged drought, freezing conditions, torrential rains. We must discuss how the CAP is complemented by mechanisms to manage such events, to avoid farmers being driven into bankruptcy.

Today's regulations in the EU are not adapted to situations such as extreme drought over a long period of time. Farmers are squeezed because of a regulatory framework that they cannot cope with on these occasions.

In addition, it takes a long time to get compensation, for example, due to the requirement of extensive documentation.

We welcome different initiatives by the commission, such as early payments and relaxed harvesting rules. However, it must be stated that these are not enough.

Early payments are vital to secure a farmer's liquidity, but they do not solve the fundamental problem of extreme loss of income. Early harvesting and the harvesting of ecological focus areas will contribute to an improved fodder situation, but cattle and pig farmers must still buy more fodder at increasing prices following the shortage.

We also welcome relaxed regulations on government subsidies, giving national governments the opportunity to intervene, but this must be considered an anomaly in a policy completely managed at the European level.

The Union has intervened with a flexible use of regulations before. Last year, for example, additional support measures for certain agricultural sectors, such as fruit, vegetables and dairy, were financed from the existing budget.

Special focus on natural catastrophes

While the difficulties from these sectors were common across the Union, caused by market conditions, we think that regional cross-border natural catastrophes should also be eligible for special consideration by the Union.

We thus urge the commission to continue to assess different measures to alleviate the situation for farmers in the affected countries.

The commission must start drawing conclusions from the ongoing event. This is not the last major regional crises for European farmers. The CAP must encompass mechanisms to deal with these situations systematically, rather than trying to get by through ad hoc decisions every time.

Agricultural organisations in Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Latvia, Lithuania and Sweden have drawn attention to this crisis.

EU commissioner Phil Hogan, responsible for agricultural issues, has already reacted and signalled a continued willingness to find solutions.

This is very appreciated. We hope that further action will enable farmers to take the necessary farming decisions without being restricted by EU rules, which are based on farming in an average year.

This year has proven to be everything but an "average year". Instead, it has been an exceptional year. That calls for exceptional decisions.

Nicolaj Christoffersen is head of meat sector with the Danish Agriculture & Food Council and Viktoria Ostlund is senior advisor at the Federation of Swedish Farmers Meat

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