Former minister queries government action on agricultural drought aid

Former Minister of Agriculture and Deputy Chair of the Parliamentary Agricultural Committee Urmas Kruuse (Reform) has put a question to Prime Minister Jüri Ratas concerning governmental assistance to farmers for dealing with the effects of the long period of drought this summer.

Reiterating comments he had made a little over two weeks ago, Mr. Kruuse said that farmers were dismayed that whilst information had been made public suggesting that the state was to grant €20 million to compensate the sector for drought losses, in actuality, high-interest loans were being offered instead.

Instead of loans, farmers require state assurance for equal conditions with farmers in other EU member states, where an emergency has been declared, Mr. Kruuse added.

"This government has not taken steps to declare a state of emergency in agriculture, despite the serious situation facing farmers dealing with this summer's drought, a force majeure situation,'' he went on.

False impression that aid would be forthcoming

"Farmers are concerned that the government is trying to create the impression that farmers are to receive aid, whereas the actual assistance from the state comes in the form of the refinancing of loans withnew loans, a step which will not help farmers effectively,'' Mr. Kruuse continued.

''It is essential for farmers that the government react seriously to this year's drought, the like of which this region has not seen in about 60 years, and consider providing extraordinary assistance,'' he argued.

Mr. Kruuse also said that there exists great confusion over the date of the payout of the subsidies paid by the Agricultural Registers and Information Centre (PRIA) after the prime minister said at a 2 August press conference that the government also supports early payment of direct aid and is to seek relevant approvals from the European Commission.

Questions that need answering

The estimated losses caused by the drought stand at around 70% of total harvests, and so farmers have stressed the need to restore liquidity, and, according to Mr. Kruuse, need answers to the following questions:

1.Why doesn't the government take the opportunity to provide a form of extraordinary assistance to farmers in a form other than that of a loan?

2. Confirmation that single-area support and support for dairy cattle breeding is to be paid out earlier than planned, ie. 1 October 2018.

Mr. Kruuse also stated that the Parliamentary Rural Affairs Committee has been meeting under an emergency schedule since July to find solutions for preventing anycrisis arising from drought damage.

The summer of 2018 started with the hottest May in over half a century, with little rainfall through to August, and saw fire danger warnings from late May, rising to a period of 'extreme' fire hazard warning in late July. Several larger fires included those at Vikipalu in Harju County, Tori in Pärnu County, and the resort town of Narva-Jõesuu, as well as dozens of smaller fires. The period of fire hazard was declared over on 14 August after a period of rainfall.

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