Long-serving Estonian agricultural union leader steps down

Roomet Sõrmus.
Roomet Sõrmus. Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

The long-term chief of Estonia's main agricultural union is stepping down from his post and moving into a sector outside of farming.

Roomet Sõrmus is set to finish as board chair of the  Estonian Chamber of Agriculture and Commerce (EPKK). on Saturday, after 15 years in office.

His fixed-term contract had expired.

During his time in the post, the EPKK has become quite high profile in its lobying activities in relation to the lot of farmers in Estonia – even picketing the European Commission in Brussels, on more than one occasion.

In 2012, an aging tractor was sent to Brussels together with more than 25,000 signatures, in support of farming and farmers in Estonia and protest against EU policies seen as detrimental.

More recently, the EPKK protested the EU's Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), saying this offered significantly lower subsidies to Estonian farmers than to many of their western European contemporaries.

The EPKK has not been idle in organizing pickets at home either. In 2015, a rally of over 100 tractors drove through Tallinn to congregate on Toompea, and in the following year, 10,000 milk bottles were symbolically placed in front of the Riigikogu building.

The EPKK has also presented MPs with gifts too, when deemed necessary – as it did in 2019.

"If we point out positive changes, many important decisions for the agricultural sector in the past ten years, in which the role of the chamber has been significant, remain in place," Sõrmus said.

"For instance, the Estonian agricultural sector has long been concerned that our direct subsidies for agriculture were one of the lowest in the EU, but from 2014 to 2020 as well as ahead of the 2021-2027 EU financial periods, we have made very good progress in the negotiations regarding the budget of the common agricultural policy, which brought several hundred additional millions to agriculture both times," he went on.

"We are happy to say that our subsidies have now reached the level of approx. 80 percent of the EU average," Sõrmus added.

At the same time, the time was ripe for change, Sõrmus added, saying he could confidently leave the organization's management to a new chief and move into a new field, though did not say what that field might be.

Sõrmus highlighted advancements in the use of agricultural tech and investments as other highlights over the past decade-and-a-half, with challenges including the dairy market crisis of 2014 and the blight of African Swine Flu (ASF), as well as the Covid crisis and labor shortage which he said was caused by rigid governmental policies in hampering the arrival of seasonal agricultural workers from countries such as Ukraine, but was ultimately resolved, thanks to the EPKK's persistence.

The EPKK represents, supports and protects the interests of rural business operators, the organization says on its website.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte, Aleksander Krjukov

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