The March Farm Council meeting in Brussels his week was preceded by farmer protests in the city and some member states over the ongoing low price and farm income issue affecting rural businesses in many countries. UK farm leaders put their concerns directly to Defra minister Liz Truss ahead of the Council meeting.
Commissioner Phil Hogan said he acknowledges the depth and duration of the current agricultural crisis, particularly for dairy and pig farmers, plus growers of fruit and vegetables. The Council has approved a series of measures to complement the €500 million support package agreed last September.
The latest measures include a temporary acceptance of state aid that would allow member states to provide up to €15,000 per farmer per year, with no overall national ceiling.
Dairy producer organisations and co-operatives would be allowed to establish voluntary agreements over production and supply for a limited period - a new concession under the last CAP reform that has not been used before. The Commission will double intervention ceilings for skimmed milk powder and butter to 109,000 tonnes and 60,000 tonnes respectively. The Commission will also strengthen the dairy aspects of its ongoing Agricultural Markets Taskforce work to strengthen the position of food producers in the supply chain
There will be a new private storage aid scheme for pigmeat, with details to be confirmed, and the EU milk market observatory concept will be extended to beef and pigmeat.
Commissioner Hogan pledged to work to promote EU exports – both by opening up new markets and negotiating a differentiated treatment for sensitive products – through international trade talks such as TTIP and Mercosur. It will continue efforts to lift the Russian trade embargo on EU imports.
The Commission will also find €110 million in 2016 to promote EU agricultural produce in the EU and third countries. €30m for pigmeat and dairy promotion was agreed in September – there will be additional amount to reflect market disturbances in those sectors. It will also review export credit schemes. Lastly, the Commission will work with the European Investment Bank to assist farmers and processors to invest in improving their competitiveness.
EU farm unions have given the package a guarded reception, saying it will take time to see if it is effective. They claim that many farmers across Europe are facing the worst crisis since the early 1980s.
“This package agreed today has the potential to help improve the crisis, especially some of the market management measures, use of export credit insurance and additional financial instruments,” says Copa president Martin Merrild. “It is also good that the EU milk market observatory has been extended to other sectors other than dairy. But I urge ministers to step up payments of the €500 million package released by the EU last September, as only part of the aid has been paid out.”