Rural affairs ministry drafting wide-scale farmer support package

Strawberries Source: Matthias Böckel / Pixabay

As strawberry growers in Estonia are still awaiting a decision regarding loss compensation for their reduced yield this year, due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Chamber of Agriculture and Commerce (EPKK) now says that in addition to strawberries, potatoes and livestock farming also suffered.

Last week, representatives of the agricultural sector congregated at the Ministry of Rural Affairs after the ministry had put together a clearer view on how the crisis affected strawberry growers, a long saga dating back to late-May when foreign labor was barred from entering the country. The exact sums of compensation were not discussed at the time, however.

The EPKK raised a whole other topic at the meeting of agricultural minds.

Roomet Sõrmus, head of the EPKK, said: "This coronavirus crisis has affected the entire agricultural sector in one way or another. Above all, the livestock sector and horticulture sector. And it is actually essential here that the state come out with a support package to alleviate their COVID-19 problems."

Raivo Külasepp, head of the Estonian Horticultural Association, agreed: "If the price of cabbage in 2019 was €0.34 per kg, today it is €0.21. Let us take a look at carrots as well - the drop here is from €0.27 to €0.22. At the same time, beats have gone from €0.24 last year to €0.12 now. That is fifty percent."

The rural affairs ministry's deputy chancellor Marko Gorban said the ministry is indeed now assessing the situation of the whole agricultural sector.

He said: "We are not just focusing on the strawberry growers' losses. We are looking at the bigger picture, trying to cooperatively put togethere what the losses are in different sectors and then we will try to offer up a solution that could help the sector."

Roomet Sõrmus added: "We have calculated in the dairy sector that losses over the last six months reach about €8 million."

Strawberry growers suffered in different ways

Once the losses have all been added up, discussions about how each sector can be helped will continue. It is also not completely clear how strawberry growers will be supported. A month ago, the EPKK was still awaiting benefits per hectare for all strawberry growers. But the situation has changed now.

Sõrmus said: "Before all, larger specialized entrepreneurs in strawberry farming have been hit, where yield loss is clear as day."

He believes the state should look at each case separately when deciding to allocate support measures. "The next step should be to draw up criteria for support measures. And then, each producer, if they meet the requirements, can present their application and that could be processed by the Agricultural Registers and Information Board (PRIA)," Sõrmus said.

He continued: "Further information can then be inquiried, already touching on specific financial indicators and a clear view on the magnitude of losses."

Gorban acknowledged that since the situation for each strawberry grower is different, it is not easy creating a common support model. He referred to the recently created support measure for food producers as an example.

Gorban said: "There, the comparison is of the companies' turnover numbers over the last year and if someone's turnover has dropped, they then have the right to apply for support up to a certain sum."

If the strawberry damages total a couple of million euros, the whole agricultural sector is likely waiting on dozens of millions. For the potential benefits to reach next year's budget, the necessary amounts must be made clear in a few weeks, however.

Gorban concluded: "There are two potential solutions. Whether to find the resources in next year's budget or make amendments in the existing budget this year. But in cooperation with the sector itself, I believe we can analyze the losses relatively quickly."


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Editor: Kristjan Kallaste

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