German farmers wait for aid, months after drought | Business | Economy and finance news from a German perspective | DW | 14.12.2018

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German farmers wait for aid, months after drought

During the summer, an exceptional heatwave and dry spell wreaked havoc on the crop yields of German farmers. Emergency state aid was pledged, but bureaucracy has held up the payments, farmers say.

The swelteringly hot summer of 2018 has long since given way to the early chills of winter in Germany but the effects of the damaging drought that gripped the country from May to August are still being felt by the country's farmers.

While around 8,000 farmers have applied for emergency aid so far — as promised to them by the government in August — no money has yet been paid out, the German Farmers' Union (DBV) confirmed to DW on Friday.

"I can tell you that no money has actually been paid out yet. We've said all along that the procedure involved is far too bureaucratic and time-consuming," said DBV spokesman Axel Finkenwirth.

When the extent of the crop losses and damages wrought by the crisis became apparent in August, both national and local government pledged emergency state aid to the tune of €340 million ($384 million) to assist the most severely affected farmers.

An exceptionally hot May was followed by three months almost fully devoid of rain, and as a result, the harvest in various German states was drastically hit. The overall reduction in the country's grain harvest was down by around 25 percent while some states, such as Lower Saxony in the northwest, were hit even harder.

Meeting the deadline

"Based on the data we gathered from our regional associations, some 8,000 drought-stricken farms have so far applied for financial aid," said Finkenwirth.

More than 4,000 applications for aid have been made in Lower Saxony alone, a state with a heavy agricultural focus that was severely affected by the drought.

Saxony-Anhalt, which borders Lower Saxony, has the second highest number of applications so far. The deadline that affected farmers have to apply for aid by depends on the individual state, but most already fell in November.

However with the deadlines for the states of North Rhine-Westphalia, Saxony, Bavaria and Hessen only falling in mid-December, a more accurate national figure will not be known until the volume of those applications are known.

The Lower Saxony deadline was on November 30, and the early figures from those applications suggest that the average payout per farm in that state could be in the region of €21,000, according to Barbara Otte-Kinast, the local minister of agriculture.

Of the 16 German states, farmers from just two — Saarland and Rhineland-Palatinate — are not eligible to apply for aid, with the drought having had limited effect in those two southwestern states.

Deutschland PK Julia Klöckner in Berlin

German Agriculture Minister Julia Klöckner confirmed aid of €340 million for drought-stricken farmers back in August

Harvest moan

Back in August, the German government designated the crisis one of "national dimensions", opening up the legal pathway to national aid, which was subsequently complemented by aid at local state level.

The threshold affected farms have to reach to be eligible is to have had more than 30 percent of their annual production destroyed. According to the joint national-local aid agreement, a maximum of 50 percent of losses could be replaced by government aid.

The drought has been the source of tensions between the German government and the DBV. The farmers' union had called for assistance of €1 billion, three times more than the eventual figure agreed to by the German Minister for Agriculture Julia Klöckner.

Even with aid being granted, the DBV remains critical of the way in which the claims for financial assistance are being handled.

"That so many applications are made despite the high hurdles, shows that the help is needed," said DBV President Joachim Rukwied in a statement earlier this week. "But in the long term, that's not a solution. We need to strengthen the risk management of companies."

However, not all in Germany have shown universal sympathy for the farmers' plight. Several environmental groups such as World Wildlife Fund Germany, criticized the farmers' call for aid at the height of the crisis, suggesting they should diversify their businesses rather than focusing on monocultures which are always at the mercy of extreme weather events.