'Weed Farmer' Mounts Offensive to Protest Alleged Media Mistreatment ({{commentsTotal}})

Source: Photo: ERR

The farmer profiled in a segment on the ETV program Pealtnägija is upset over being portrayed as bilking the state for direct payments, and has taken to social media to protest his innocence of wrongdoing.

A statement posted by Jaak Vackermann on Facebook alongside posts on local elections (he is running as a Reform Party candidate in Nissi municipality) provided background information to establish his credentials as a bona fide producer.

He has been a potato farmer since 1989, he said, when he bought his first T-40 tractor from money he had raised from building homes for collective farm bosses. Over his career, he said, he had grown over 2,000 tons of potatoes on his farm, with a haul of over 540 tons on 35 hectares in his record year - in stony soil.

"I had been getting stuck with some of my harvest due to a saturated market, and so I decided to quit production for a few years to raise enough capital from direct payments to buy proper stone removal machinery and a potato harvester and then re-enter the market."

He said that production and direct payments were not rigidly linked in the EU's Common Agricultural Policy and called it hypocritical and illogical for Estonians to put such a fine point on things.

"It can seem odd that the rules allow one to get support payments without producing anything besides humus, but now the rules are suddenly interpreted so as to make someone look bad. They say what I am doing is not nice, even though the rules were made in Brussels."

He also reserved criticism for the EU, saying that the persistent disparity between subsidies for the older and newer member states encouraged infighting among Estonian farmers for limited funds.

He says he is a target of a smear campaign from rival farmers.  

"It's just accepted at face value that I haven't moved a finger, but work is all recorded in the Field Book, which is an admissible legal document."

In addition to the 160 hectares of land he owns and 60 hectares that he leases, he said, he and his wife manage 190 hectares of grassland. By law, mowing on that land can only be done in July.

"The whole problem is that I sowed an obligatory intercrop on my cropland [...] - in this case winter and summer rapeseed - before July so that I would have enough time to do maintenance mowing on the pastureland. Now the sowed rape fields are full of weeds and this was already inspected by the agriculture officials and recorded in a report. But I remove that vegetative growth and incorporate it into the soil. Autumn work is not finished yet, you know."

"If my public execution was necessary to influence the planning of a new Rural Development Plan and policy, you picked on the wrong guy. […] The least you could do is to allow me to explain on live TV as I no longer trust edited segments."

In recent days, Vackermann has also released an extensive number of annotated videos on Youtube in which he takes apart Pealtnägja's claims. 

For example, Vackermann claimed that the thistle-filled field shown by Pealtnägija was not his. Pealtnägija responded, on its own Facebook site, by providing a link to a public map database run by the Agricultural Registers and Information Board (ARIB) that demonstrated otherwise, but Vackermann was quick with a response, countering that the data reflected the 2012 status.

He also said the euro amount cited by Pealtnägija, 50,000 euros was actually, in the case of payments in 2013, 11,160 euros after reductions made by ARIB inspectors.

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