BLOG: European farmers face crisis
It’s not always easy being a produce farmer – mainly because there are so many factors beyond the farmer’s control, writes Andre Erasmus.
We all know this, and usually the problems are weather, crop disease and fluctuating market prices. These are all problems farmers have adapted to and, despite all hardships and obstacles thrown their way, they have managed to make a decent life for themselves.
But now there is anew and far uglier or uncontrollable problem. That is politics and over the past few years this is having a marked effect too.
The culprit seems to be one Vladimir Putin keeps on extending the list of countries from which he is banning food imports – in retaliation to Western sanctions against Russia over Crimea and the Ukraine crisis.
The ban includes meat, fish, dairy products, fruit and vegetables.
And there are more problems, especially for potato farmers. Large potato crops this season have made for low prices in Europe. Speciality potatoes, which usually command premium prices, have also been hit by this year’s glut of product.
“We are living through a very difficult season this year,” said Gerald Lemaire of international potato traders Lucas Lemaire in France. “Prices are very low due to big yields in Europe.”
The downward pressure on prices this year has been so strong, he said, that growers know they’re not going to sell the entirety of their crop before the last of it has been harvested.
Then there’s the recently released Northern European Potato Growers area report which estimates total crops to be down nearly 4% from last year and overall production estimated down over 12%.
Areas in all countries are estimated lower than in 2014, principally as a response to the low market prices available during the season.
Little wonder than, that farmers have been protesting in Brussels. Thousands of farmers, mainly Belgian, French and German, have been protesting against plummeting prices for their produce.
Vice-president Jyrki Katainen said: “This demonstrates that the Commission takes its responsibility towards farmers very seriously and is prepared to back it up with the appropriate funds.”
But is this enough? Prices for food are falling and the problems the ministers needed to address were not only Putin’s punitive putsch but drought, viral disease and falling supermarket prices too.
Poland and Romania, for example, are suffering the consequences of a severe drought and the Polish representative said that his country expects a 25 percent drop in the average farmer household income as a result.