EU sets out support for struggling farmers

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Commission proposed measures on Wednesday to support farmers hit by the coronavirus restrictions, including aid to store surplus dairy and meat products.

FILE PHOTO: A farmer works on her field near the town of Langadas, in Greece, June 1, 2018. REUTERS/Alexandros Avramidis

Under the proposals, the Commission will grant aid for private storage of milk powder, butter and cheese as well as beef, sheep and goat meat for a minimum of two to three months and a maximum of five to six months.

Milk, flowers and potato producers would be allowed to take collective measures to stabilise their markets, such as through planned production, relaxing normal EU competition law for up to six months.

Existing market support programmes for wine, fruits and vegetables and for bee-keepers would be applied more flexibly to allow funds to be re-oriented towards crisis management.

EU Agriculture Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski said the proposals were designed to stabilise markets and were considered the most appropriate way to support prices and production.

The Commission said it hoped to adopt the measures by the end of April after EU governments vote on them.

The French dairy sector welcomed the measures, while the German farmers’ association said the Commission had taken the right decision in the current market conditions.

European farming association Copa Cogeca says the closure of restaurants and hotels meant producers were losing the market for higher priced products, such as more expensive cuts of meat, with a devastating impact on returns for several sectors.

Potato producers were also suffering because there were no restaurants to sell fries.

So far, the European Commission has said farmers would be given longer to apply for direct payments, while the disbursement process could be accelerated, and relaxed state aid rules would allow up to 100,000 euros ($108,100) per farm.

Some 17 billion euros in unspent rural development policy funds could also be diverted to farmers, commissioner Wojciechowski previously said.

($1 = 0.9251 euros)

Reporting by Philip Blenkinsop; Editing by Elaine Hardcastle