Special EU meeting as farm crisis deepens

An extraordinary EU Agriculture Council meeting to discuss the farmer economic crisis, especially in the dairy and livestock sectors, has been convened by the Luxembourg Presidency of the EU.
Special EU meeting as farm crisis deepens

However, the meeting in Brussels will not take place until Monday, September 7, according to the surprise announcement by the EU Presidency.

Among the factors behind the decision is a French government estimate that about 22,000 French farmers are on the brink of bankruptcy, with a combined debt of €1 billion.

Meanwhile, at least three member states have requested placement of dairy produce into public intervention storage, for the first time in over five years, because of the slump in dairy markets.

A heatwave throughout much of Europe is also hurting farmers.

And many Continental beef farmers have been getting prices for cattle at least 6% behind Irish prices, which have been buoyed up by the strong UK market.

UK prices are nearly 20% ahead of prices in most member states.

The EU pig sector is probably moving into crisis faster than any of the other farm enterprise, with producers being forced out of business.

The worst hit regions are Poland and the Baltic member states.

Compared with 12 months ago, pig prices have dropped 23.9% in Belgium; 17-20% in Poland, Latvia, the Czech Republic, Lithuania, Denmark, and Bulgaria; and 12.2% in Germany.

Pig prices here have fallen about 13%.

EU aid is sought for dairy farmers also, with average farm-gate milk prices about 20% behind 2014 levels. One of the EU’s biggest milk buyers, Danone, has warned markets will not show recovery until the first half of 2016.

Of the big EU member states, France is likely to push hardest for the EU aid, after a month of drought added to the woes of French farmers, hit by falling exports and stagnant pork, beef and dairy prices, blamed on changing dietary habits, slowing Chinese demand, and the Russian embargo on Western products, which has left many facing a severe cash-flow crisis.

EU farmers’ organisations and co-ops have called on the EU Commission to advance direct payments before the usual December 1 start date; to return €700m of the 2014/2015 superlevy fine to the dairy sector, using it to ease dairy farm cash flow problems; to raise the EU milk intervention price; and to open new markets for dairy products, now one of the cheapest animal proteins.

When Agriculture Ministers meet in September, France’s Stephane le Foll will lead demands for the EU to help with milk surpluses linked to the end of the quota system and a decline in Chinese demand.

Gérard Larcher, the President of the French Senate, has asked the European Commission to step in and buy up pork reserves to alleviate the pig farm crisis, and use the meat to relieve the humanitarian situation in Greece.

He was supported by Guy Vasseur, President of the French Permanent Assembly of the Chambers of Agriculture, in calls to set up a system like the tokens to buy food which are issued to 46m needy people in the United States.

French farmers have mounted militant protests against cheap imports and pressure from grocery chains — and Irish farmers may suffer, because French retailers have responded to farmer protests by suspending purchases of imported meats.

Bernadette Byrne of Bord Bia’s Paris office said this was causing “significant problems for exporters”, including Irish companies forced to find alternative markets for their product. She said beef and pork were the worst affected.

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