Frost may boost farmers’ demands

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If the government wasn’t under enough pressure to boost funding for farmers, the weather has added to it. Unseasonable nighttime frost has hit fruit growers hard, with one farmer in Telemark unable to find a single apple on any of his 13,000 trees.

Farmers recovering from last year’s drought in Norway suddenly had frost to worry about as well this week. PHOTO: LMD

“It’s not possible to be 100 percent certain, but it looks very, very bad,” Jostein Jonsås told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) after the third night in a row with temperatures below freezing. His trees had blossomed during the recent spell of warm weather, but all the blossoms he examined Wednesday morning were brown and unlikely to produce any fruit.

“This is a catastrophe,” said the the visibly shaken Jonsås. “I’ve never seen anything like this before.” Spraying his trees with nitrogen on Tuesday to help keep them from freezing didn’t seem to help. He fears all his income has been wiped out for the season, which he claims “has been ruined.”

‘Worst possible time’ for frost
The cold snap that’s swept over Southern Norway during the past week came at the worst possible time, according to the farmers’ organization Bondelaget. “The unusually warm weather in April made it seem like it would be a good season,” Jan Thorsen of the organization’s Telemark chapter told NRK. “But then came this frost in May and destroys everything. It just shows what a short way it is from success to fiasco.”

He noted that farmers “have invested a lot and there’s no doubt it will be tough for them, given the loans they need to pay back.” The frost this year comes on top of the drought last year that also caused lots of problems for farmers, and forced a state bailout.

Now, with many other farmers complaining about a recent lack of rain, Bondelaget fears another drought this year. They asked the government last week for nearly NOK 2 billion (USD 235 million) in the form of subsidy and tariff support in the next state budget, to fund pay raises, innovation programs, measures to help cut their carbon emissions and incentives to keep farming all over the country, not just in Norway’s major if limited agricultural areas in counties like Hedmark, Oppland and Trøndelag.

State offers half
The state responded on Tuesday with an offer of around NOK 1 billion, half the farmers’ demands. They were predictably disappointed, although the process usually includes asking for far more than they get. “We have completely different ambitions when it comes to reducing the distance between income in the agriculture sector and other sectors,” Bondelaget boss Lars Petter Bartnes told news bureau NTB. “We need NOK 890 million just to compensate for higher costs next year.”

The state, however, thinks the farmers’ pay demands are too high, given other average raises this year of around 3 percent. The state is also calling on farmers to address a “market imbalance” tied to their over-production of pork and red meat. Leif Forsell, negotiations leader in the agriculture ministry, said livestock production represents the biggest challenge for farmers in Norway at a time when Norwegians are eating less meat.

Negotiations are likely to begin this week and are due to be completed by May 16. If no agreement is reached, the farmers will take their demands to Parliament. They secured extra funding after last year’s drought. Now the frost has clearly had a chilling effect on farming as well.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund