Tensions are growing among farmers. The reason is prosaic, the payment of direct payments is delayed. Out of the total amount of 360 million euros, 157 million euros flowed into the accounts of farmers, but not all of them. The Minister of Agriculture, Richard Takáč, promises a remedy to be brought by the new general director of the Agricultural Payment Agency, Marek Čepko. He is a former farmer who, in his own words. “he knows how a farmer feels when he doesn’t know when subsidies will arrive”.
Minister of Agriculture Richard Takáč (Smer).
So when will the supports come to the accounts and what is holding them back?
The next decisions on the payment of subsidies should be made on Monday, February 19, it will be the so-called subsidies for grazing animals and tied vegetable production, and on February 29, support for whole-farm eco-schemes should come into play. Businesses are waiting for subsidies as salvation, because in the meantime they have accumulated debt payments. To make matters worse, farmers on Rye Island, for example, face increased property taxes, when the councils of some municipalities ask for 115 euros per hectare of land instead of 55.
These are the reasons that, according to the president of the Agrarian Chamber of Slovakia, Helena Patassiova, drive farmers to protests. They should start with demonstrative protest tractor drives on February 19, for example, in Levice, but also in Orava. They are organized by the Association of Land Owners and Agricultural Entrepreneurs of Slovakia (ZVPAS).
The Slovak Chamber of Agriculture and Food Industry is also planning protests. She held a meeting on Monday in
Warsaw with the partner organizations of the V4 countries to coordinate its action with them, especially with farmers in the Czech Republic. So next week will be marked by protests.
Farmers are photographers
“We will see how the department responds to our requests. Unless there is a remedy, we will not end with one protest. We pointed out the problems on January 17, and they are being solved at a snail’s pace,” said ZVAPS chairman Ján Jelen. The members of this organization, primarily grouping family farmers, are running out of patience.
Large companies are not any better off, while smaller ones have received at least part of the subsidies, cooperatives and trading companies are still waiting for them. “We have not paid our obligations to our suppliers, which we usually covered with subsidies. Now we will have to take out a bridging loan and these are additional expenses that only benefit the bank,” said one of the managers of the company in the Trnava district.
The Agricultural Payment Agency plays a key role in the payment of subsidies. Both Minister Richard Takáč (Smer) and farmers agree that the “platobka” has failed in the payment of subsidies. The minister sees the incompetence of the previous governments behind its poor performance. Last year, the situation was complicated by the fall of Heger’s government, which was essentially followed up by the Ódor government with maintenance activities. As a result, the agency was unprepared to meet the requirements of the Common Agricultural Policy for the new programming period.
According to Takač, both external and internal problems are behind the delayed subsidy payments. He described the system as over-bureaucratized by both Brussels and Bratislava. Behind the complex administration is, for example, the hitherto non-functional Register of User Relations. Added to this were problems with satellite images. They are inaccurate and farmers have to document their claims to land and thus to subsidies with photographs. Takač said that the farmers have become officials and photographers who, instead of working in the field or in the barn, diligently document claims for support.
Everyone will protest in their own way
In addition, the problems with subsidies were exacerbated by the greening of agriculture resulting from the Green Deal. Biobelts and fallows have brought more trouble than effect, and in addition, now the problem is how to come up with money for lost production from tens of thousands of hectares. However, one thing is certain: farmers do have the right to subsidies, but as Takač reminded, they also have obligations to document them. The new general director of the PPA, Marek Čepko, should contribute to a more direct payment of subsidies, who issued an order that the workers of the payment agency must be friendly to farmers. The agency must simply be a pro-client organization serving farmers and not the other way around.
The measures taken by the new general director, who is Takač’s third choice, should result in a faster payment of subsidies. Next year, the way to it should be opened by full digitization, i.e. no longer written, but only electronic submission of applications. The president of the Slovak Chamber of Agriculture and Food Industry, Emil Macho, realistically estimated that “the bulk of the money will be paid out during March and April.” In the meantime, disgruntled farmers are preparing protests to urge those responsible to take more action.
As is customary in Slovakia, protests are directed by individual unions, chambers and associations. It says that after 35 years, you can still feel among the farmers who belongs to the so-called large enterprises, i.e. cooperatives and their followers, and who belongs to the second group, which consists of family farms and young farmers. The Agrarian Chamber of Slovakia addressed its members to decide whether to join the Slovak Chamber of Agriculture and Food, whose members provide 80 percent of Slovakia’s agricultural production, or to go under the banner of the Association of Land Owners and Agribusiness.
The Minister of Agriculture does not object to the protests, he supports them, but he would like it if they did not result in restrictions on the functioning of other companies.