With farmers taking to the streets of Brussels once more as EU agriculture ministers met to discuss the collapse in farm commodity prices, the European Commission announced a package of measures aimed at addressing the ongoing problems in the farming sector.
However, unlike the previous meeting last September when a €500 million (£389m) emergency aid package was announced, no major tranche of funds was released. Outlining the new measures, EU farm commissioner Phil Hogan said that dairy, pigmeat and the fruit and vegetable sectors were the main focus of the package.
“This is a package of measures which can have a material and positive impact on European agricultural markets and it should now be given the chance to succeed,” he said.
Stopping short of calls from France for production controls to be re-introduced to the milk sector, Hogan did, however, give the go-ahead to limited national measures which would allow producer organisations and co-operatives to put in place voluntary arrangements aimed at controlling production and supply.
Scottish Government officials said that it would look closely at the details of the scheme to see if it was applicable to Scotland.
A doubling of the ceilings for skimmed milk powder and butter going into intervention was also announced.
However, despite strong support for Ireland’s recent lobbying to have fertiliser import tariffs removed – a move backed by UK farming unions and Defra minister Liz Truss – there was no news on these measures which have been blamed for keeping fertiliser prices in the EU around 14 per cent higher than world prices.
Turning to the supply chain, Hogan said that the agricultural markets taskforce, launched last September would deliver its conclusions in the autumn – and legislative recommendations to improve the balance in the chain would be made then. However, he said that the taskforce would meet the diary sector.
On the pigmeat front, Hogan said he would consider the introduction of a new private storage aid scheme, but the details of the scheme, including the timing of its introduction, remained to be confirmed.
He also said he would seek to extend the current measures for fruit and vegetables – arising from the Russian ban – which were set to expire on 30 June.
The commissioner also said he would consider state aid to be provided up to a maximum of €15,000 per farmer per year – with no national ceiling.
Hogan said that despite considerable efforts to tackle the crisis at its root, there had been little improvement in the trading situation with Russia, although steps had been taken with other countries.
Welcoming the package, Scottish rural affairs cabinet secretary Richard Lochhead said that some of the measures such as the raised intervention ceilings for skimmed milk powder and butter which would help stabilise prices would provide immediate assistance for Scottish producers.