Government rejects more farm crisis aid

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Agriculture Minister Jon Georg Dale has turned down farmers’ demands for more crisis aid after this summer’s drought, at least for now. The farmers aren’t the only ones hollering for help either, with horse stables and golf courses facing destruction and financial losses, too.

Hungry cattle have even been brought back to barns because the drought has also reduced grass in their free-grazing areas, like here in Hadeland. Farmers are threatening to slaughter more animals if they don’t get enough state assistance. PHOTO: newsinenglish.no

Dale and Prime Minister Erna Solberg responded once again to the farmers’ calls for more financial aid, meeting them at a drought-stricken farm at Kløfta, northeast of Oslo on Wednesday. Dale’s ministry has already offered a series of measures aimed at helping the farmers acquire feed for their cattle, after the drought dried up fields on Norwegian farms that normally produce it.

Still not satisfied, the farmers’ two powerful lobbying organizations appealed directly to Solberg last week for a meeting, and she obliged. Both she and Dale listened to the farmers’ concerns and saw first-hand how the drought has destroyed this year’s crops of grass for animal feed. The farmers asked for more direct financial aid from the state, on top of the annual aid they get in the form of direct subsidy and import protection.

Dale’s ministry has acknowledged that local county officials estimate crop losses at more than NOK 1 billion this year, and he stressed that Norway already has a special fund aimed at compensating farmers for such losses. Solberg also assured the farmers that funds will be made available in the state budget her govenrment will present in October.

Farmers disappointed
They turned down the requests for an additional crisis package, though, with Dale stating that “we must wait to see how the crops develop and what the losses actually are this fall. We have a very good compensation program, and it will be called upon.” He added that he thinks his ministry has “a good dialogue with the farmers and will evaluate additional measures as needed.” He also offered to renegotiate the farmers’ annual subsidy backage, “if that can help the situation.”

The farmers were disappointed, even angry, that their wishes weren’t immediately fulfilled. Lars Petter Bartnes, leader of the large Norges Bondelag, claimed that losses were “so big … that we must have a crisis package in place to save Norwegian food production. We can’t wait to make decisions on whether to import expensive feed from abroad or slaughter more livestock.” Ann Merete Furuberg, leader of the Norsk Bonde- og Småbrukarlag claimed she was “angry” that a government minister, who’s a farmer himself, “has so little insight into the crisis we face. Compensation is only adequate in a normal crisis year,” arguing that this crisis is abnormal.

Politial reaction, too
Norwegian farmers generally have a knee-jerk reaction of demanding taxpayer support and, now, bailouts when they find themselves in trouble. Sensing political opportunity, opposition parties in Parliament were backing the farmers and criticizing the government again for allegedly failing to offer enough assistance.

“The government’s ‘no’ is extremely provocative,” Geir Pollestad of the farmer-friendly Center Party told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK). “It defies the signals that the Center Party, the Labour Party, the Socialist Left and the Christian Democrts have sent this summer. These parties make up a majority in Parliament.” He said his party will propose a crisis package and perhaps force it through when Parliament reconvenes in October.

No bailouts for horses or golf
Both the state and local governments, meanwhile, were also facing demands for help from horse stables and urban farms that the public can visit, especially in Oslo. Willfred Nordlund, a Member of Parliament for the Center Party, said they need help, too, after owners of the Ekeberg petting farm, for example, warned that it may need to slaughter horses, ponies, sheep and goats because they lack feed. A farm at Alna in Oslo faces losses of several hundred-thousand kroner and the Søndre Aas farm needs to cut back, too. City of Oslo officials responded that they have no crisis packages in their budget for animal feed.

Most golf courses in Southern Norway also face crises after snow and ice forced them to plant new grass and then it dried up in the drought. “We went from a hellish winter to an even more hellish summer,” Peter Johansson of the Nøtterøy Golf Club told newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) this week. They had little if any prospects, though, of getting aid from the state, and his club’s own members quickly agreed to bail themselves out, by raising membership fees by 30 percent to cover the losses.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund