THE European Commission has no plans to table new financial aid for tillage farmers as the cereal sector is still ‘in balance’ and can be supplied by existing inventories, Deputy Director-General Joost Korte stated on October 12th.
Speaking at the EP Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development, the senior DG AGRI official stressed the cereals market was still ‘in a good position,’ remains competitive on the world stage and has no structural problems compared with dairy and livestock. He conceded the EU-wide figure concealed a ‘mixed picture’ between regions and Member States, with French cereal producers suffering the most.
Total cereal production in France was down 24% compared with last year, a result of adverse weather and a high incidence of disease at the end of the growing season, with soft wheat 31% less than 2015. Irish Fine Gael MEP Mairéad McGuinness put the point on the agenda, insisting that Irish farmers were under severe financial and psychological pressure as they struggle to cope with the consequences of the failed harvest.
Taking to the floor, the EP vice-president said tillage farmers in her home country were ‘stressed, anguished and in pain,’ calling on national and European politicians to respond to the crisis situation. Hundreds of farmers, particularly those along the west coast and parts of West Cork, have been badly hit by heavy rainfall, a slump in prices and poor yields and seen their harvests destroyed in the fields.
McGuinness – a possible contender in the race to become the new EP president in early 2017 – said that cereal growers were ‘not receiving enough attention because other sectors such as dairy and pigmeat were struggling.’ She said: ‘Farmers have watched their livelihoods disintegrate before their eyes – the price they are getting for their crops is now substantially below production costs and many are really struggling to stay afloat,’ the Louth woman added.
But the Commission is keen to put this year’s cereals harvest in perspective, saying it is expected to reach 294 million tonnes, which is a lot ‘lower than expectations both in terms of quantity and quality.’ But, the overall figure represents a 5% drop in volume compared with the bumper harvest in 2015, but only 3% less than the five-year average of 300mt.
There have also been good harvests in South and Eastern Europe, he said, pointing to a 20-25% increase in yields in Spain, Hungary and Slovakia, the DG AGRI representative said.
EU Farm Commissioner Phil Hogan pledged to allocate €4 million to promote beef on third countries and €15 million to promote meat consumption on the internal market next year, in a bid to bolster the ailing sector. During his intervention on the market situation at the Agriculture Council on October 10th – where he pointed to a ‘fragile recovery’ in the pigmeat and dairy sectors – he raised the ‘structural difficulties facing the European livestock sector’ which has seen downward pressure on beef prices, as increased numbers of dairy cows and heifers are being culled.
On a positive note, he said exports were dynamic with an increase of 16.8% in the period January-July 2016, with ‘very active external markets in the Mediterranean area, Africa and Asia.’ The Irish Commissioner also promised to help livestock farmers tap into new export opportunities, which is part of his diplomatic offensive to ‘help unlock new markets and expand exports.’
The next trade mission to Vietnam and Indonesia is scheduled for the beginning of November (2nd to 9th) and he confirmed plans to visit Turkey before the end of the year to ‘help increase access to that market for the live exports trade.’
At the time of going to press, I am attending the International Food Fair (SIAL) in Paris, where I have lined up meetings with key Irish exporters and food promotion bodies such as Bord Bia.
I look forward to sharing their views on the implications of Brexit and potential food export opportunities in the next ‘Letter from Brussels.’
• Rose O’Donovan is editor of the Brussels-based publication AGRA FACTS & a regular contributor to the video platform www.vieuws.eu/food-agriculture/