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Visiting France

Sarkozy announces one billion euros aid to drought-hit farmers

media Sarkozy visits a farm in Montemboeuf with Ecology Minister Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet … Reuters/Remy de la Mauviniere

President Nicolas Sarkozy promised a billion euros of aid to French farmers struggling with drought caused by the hottest spring since 1900. The worst drought since 1970 is pushing farmers into debt unless they slaughter their livestock.

Livestock producers have had to buy hay to feed their animals and some feed is to be imported.

The farmers’ union, Coordination rurale, has called for a psychological unit to help farmers cope with the pressures caused by the drought. Some 400 farmers commit suicide each year in France, reports health watchdog InVS.

Sarkozy’s drought aid plan includes loan deferrals and tax exemptions to livestock farmers. They will not have to pay back loans for a year, and will not have to pay property taxes this year.

Military installations will be used to stock feed and the agriculture ministry is to meet with the state-owned rail company, the SNCF, to organise transport of supplies.

That will cost the state about a billion euros, according to Prime Minister François Fillon.

Sarkozy presented the plan in Poitou-Charentes, the region where Ségolène Royale, his Socialist opponent in the 2007 presidential election, is president.

Royal, who says she was not invited, showed up at the round-table discussion where the announcement was made and insisted on taking part in the discussion.

Royal was booed by some of the audience but both she and Sarkozy said that crises like the drought should transcend political differences.

Hit by the drought:

  • Livestock farmers, who have suffered a 20 per cent drop in prices for their meat, face the choice between going into debt to buy feed or slaughtering their animals young;
  • The wheat harvest will fall 13 per cent this year and will be one of the smallers of the last 10 years;
  • Forests are likely to hit by wildfires, with 30 hectares destroyed in the western Sarthe region last week;
  • Orchards are relatively safe if the trees’ roots are deep but will be less productive, with early harvests, and may face diseases;
  • Vegetables are ripening early and will suffer if there are serious restrictions on irrigation;
  • Mushroom growers need straw and will have to compete with livestock farmers to get it;
  • The wheat harvest is expected to fall 15 per cent this year but prices are sure to rise:
  • Maze, sunflowers and other summer crops are likely to be hit by lack of water and will suffer even more if there is a summer heatwave;
  • Winemakers are likely to be the only winners with the hot weather meaning lower yields but better quality – the older the vines, the deeper the roots, the more taste of the terroir, the flavour that comes from the specific qualities of a vineyard.
     

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