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Ministry to launch aid for fruit growers similar to post-tornado support in Moravia. Other applicants also emerging

Translated by Milo Dvorak

3. 5. 2024

Business Newsletter #30

I hope you enjoyed the Wednesday bank holiday as much as I did (that's also why you're only receiving this email today instead of Thursday).

It appears that the recent frost has severely damaged this year's fruit growers' crops, effectively bringing their yield down to very little or, in some cases, even practically nothing.

Published by on 2 May 2024.

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Compared to the anticipated 138,000 tonnes, fruit growers expect to harvest about 30,000 tonnes as a consequence of extreme April frosts. Minister of Agriculture Marek Výborný of KDU-ČSL stated this after today's meeting with representatives of fruit growers and winemakers, debating frost damage and possible state assistance. The damages now exceed one billion crowns. The ministry plans to launch an agriculture risk-and-crisis management programme, previously used in response to damages from the devastating 2021 Moravia tornado. Furthermore, the ministry will also seek support from the European Commission.

"Fruit growers, regardless of the fruit, altitude or location, have suffered fatal damages. It is the role of the state to intervene in such situations," said Výborný at a press conference after the meeting with representatives of fruit growers, winemakers, and forest nurseries. While fruit growers report damages reaching almost 90 per cent, the impact on winemakers varies by region. "In some areas, especially in Bohemia, the damage is even 100 per cent. Across the Republic, there's an approximate 35-percent drop," he clarified.

"At this point, we cannot say how much we will be able to allocate to fruit growers. My ambition is at least the previously mentioned 70 to 100 million crowns," Výborný stated. According to him, higher support should be directed to those growers whose damages exceeded 90 per cent. "The programme also accounts for entities that did not have commercial insurance against frost, reducing their rate to 50 per cent," he added.

Although Výborný has promised help to fruit growers, winemakers as well as forest nurseries, vegetable and potato growers, also affected by the frost, are beginning to apply for it as well. President of the Agrarian Chamber, Jan Doležal, has requested maximum possible exceptional funding from the Minister of Agriculture in a letter that ČTK has obtained. "I am shocked by the behaviour of the Agrarian Chamber; no one had contacted me. This is not how I operate at all," Výborný objected strongly. The damages are unprecedented, winemakers complain. April frosts account for a loss of two billion.

According to him, it's important to support growers so they invest in tools that will help protect their crops in the future. Current insurance policies are said to be unfair, as they do not reflect when a grower is insured against other potential disasters, such as floods or hailstorms.

At the press conference, Výborný also touched upon the topic of excise tax on the so-called "still wine", as winemakers, in light of the damages, demand a halt to discussions on its adoption. "The meeting was not on the topic of the tax; we merely touched upon it briefly," he said. According to him, the ministry now needs to focus mainly on regional aid for those most affected.

Czechia will also request extraordinary financial assistance from the European Commission's agricultural reserves. The aid package is designated for extreme droughts. "I met privately with Commissioner for Agriculture Janusz Wojciechowski this Monday morning," the minister said.

Such a catastrophe has not been experienced by farmers since 1929. "Essentially, winter weather returned for a few days with overnight frosts. In most of Bohemia, fruit growers lost all their crops and will not harvest any fruit this year," Výborný said. "The same frosts also affected several other European countries, hence why I have called on the European Commission to assist growers by releasing funds from the agricultural reserve," he adds.

The damages to fruit and grapes are devastating, according to farmers, and the president of the Winemakers' Union Martin Chlad described them as fatal. "Vegetation was a month ahead due to warm weather in March, but then the traditional spring frosts, that can be combated or mitigated by standard insurance tools, did not come," the minister explains. Unlike other business sectors, fruit growers do not have the option to insure their crops in these cases, as these are deemed too risky and uninsurable. However, growers of apples, strawberries, or blueberries are exempt.

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