Shorter fries and sunburned cows : Why the farmer’s crisis matters

As the hot weather rages on into August, farmers are fearing the worst, and have gone cap in hand to the government, which is now deliberating over possible subsidies. So why does the farmers’ plight matter to the rest of us, and will the government bail them out?

Shorter fries and sunburned cows : Why the farmer's crisis matters
Farmers are fearing severe harvest losses as the hot weather and drought continue across Germany. Photo: DPA

Weeks of drought and soaring temperatures have left farmers in the lurch this summer, with many fearing crippling losses at this year’s harvest.

At the beginning of the week, the German Farmers’ Association (DBV) begged the government for financial support, saying that the industry would need around a billion euros in subsidies in order to protect smaller producers.

“Losing up to 70 percent of the harvest is something which goes beyond normal business risks,” said DBV president Joachim Rukwied. This is, he told Handelsblatt, a crisis of “national proportions”.

That phrase was carefully chosen, because German law states that the federal government can only step in to financially support farmers when the problem of harvest losses takes on “national proportions”. The last time that happened was in 2003, and this time around too, the government says it is willing to consider a bailout.

“We should not be petty about this,” said Volker Kauder, chairman of the CDU/CSU parliamentary group and a close ally of Angela Merkel, in an interview with the Neue Osnabrücker Zeitung on Wednesday. “Farmers produce our food and take care of our landscape. In an exceptional situation like this one, it is vitally important that we support them.”

Kauder backed agriculture minister Julia Klöckner’s (CDU) plans to wait for the actual statistics on this year’s harvest before pledging government support. Yet DBV boss Rukwied claims that this isn’t enough, telling Handelsblatt that “action needs to be taken in the coming weeks”.

Though the problem may seem far away from the man on the street, the signs are there that this crisis could have a significant effect on consumers in Germany.

This week, a spokesperson for the German Association of Dairy Farmers told the Tagesspiegel that, because of the rising cost of animal feed, milk prices could go up to 41 cents a litre, almost a third higher than the current rate.

Potatoes could also get more expensive, with the Association of Fruit, Vegetable and Potato Producers (BOGK) warning of income losses of around 20 percent for potato farmers. That could in turn lead to higher prices, reported Focus, though not until the autumn.

The potato problem could lead to other problems, though. The drought has had a particular effect on the extra large varieties of potato which are grown for the production of fries, meaning that fast food junkies could soon be faced with unusually short fries.

The heat could even have an effect on the quality and price of leather, Focus reported, for the simple reason that cows are also getting sunburn.

Yet it is not all agricultural doom and gloom this summer. For some sectors such as wine-making, the heatwave is a boon.

The warmth helps the maturing process, a spokesperson for the German Wine Institute (DWI) told AFP. That means that Germany may have the first new wines of the year weeks earlier than usual.

“We are so early that we might even be able to compete with the Italians,” said the DWI’s Ernst Büscher. Which German wouldn’t drink to that?

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