State refuses to cover berry losses

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Norwegian strawberry farmers who have seen their crops ruined by a fungus this summer quickly demanded that the state compensate their losses. They’re disappointed after a meeting at the agriculture ministry.

The price for a basket of Norwegian strawberries is expected to remain high this summer, after growers lost nearly half their crop in a fungus attack. PHOTO: newsinenglish.no

The price for a basket of Norwegian strawberries is expected to remain high this summer, after growers lost nearly half their crop in a fungus attack. PHOTO: newsinenglish.no

“We did ask them whether they wanted to reallocate some of the money they’ve already been granted by the state,” State Secretary Terje Halleland from the Progress Party told news bureau NTB. He said the farmers turned that down.

They were out after additional funding to cover financial losses after their plants have been attacked this season by the fungus known as gråskimmel, which turns berries grey and makes them rot in the field. The fungus is a constant threat but has hit strawberry growers especially hard this year in the southern counties of Agder, and has been spreading to other counties.

Halleland agreed to meet representatives from the berry growers’ group Agderbær and one of Norway’s powerful farming lobby organizations, Norges Bondelag, who sought state assistance in what they call an “extraordinary” situation. While state officials refused to provide more financial aid to the farmers, they did agree to support studies of the strawberry plants’ resistance problems.

“We wished the ministry had more to offer,” Bjørn Gimming, deputy leader of Norges Bondelag. He said this year’s overall strawberry crop has been reduced by 40 percent, with some growers reporting total losses.

Agriculture Minister Jon Georg Dale, also from the conservative Progress Party, had earlier expressed that the farmers must be responsible for their own risk and losses. Opposition politicians in Parliament disagreed, claiming it was necessary to compensate the growers who’ve lost their berry crops.

“Asking the  farmers to use money from their state funding package for this, which no one could anticipate, amounts to shirking responsibility,” Karin Andersen, a Member of Parliament for the Socialist Left (SV) told NTB. The Labour Party and the farmer-friendly Center Party also called for additional aid for the farmers. The state does offer compensation for berry crops that are damaged by frost or other climate-related problems, but nothing specific for the fungus growers are now battling, although it has been tied to heavy rain at the start of the season.

“We have no problems sympathizing with the farmers,” Halleland said, “but strawberry production entails a certain amount of risk.” The government believes that’s the farmers’ responsibility, not the state’s.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund