EU must do more to help fruit and vegetable farmers joining forces in so-called producer organisations to increase their competitiveness and bargaining power in the food supply chain, says the draft non-legislative resolution adopted by the Agriculture committee on Tuesday. MEPs also called on the Commission to tackle unfair trading practices and further improve the EU's fruit and vegetable regime.

"Producer organisations must continue to be the cornerstone of the EU's agricultural policy. The report that we adopted today stands for the encouragement of growers to organize themselves in an organisation which can enhance their bargaining power, better position them in the food chain and thus improve their incomes", said Nuno Melo (EPP, PT), Parliament's rapporteur on the resolution, which responds to the Commission's assessment of the situation in the EU's fruit and vegetable sector since the 2007 reform. His report was adopted in the Agriculture committee by 37 votes in favour, with six abstentions.


Providing incentives for farmers to join forces


The 2007 reform aimed to strengthen the position of fruit and vegetables farmers in the food supply chain. The support for producer organisations and their associations was intensified to boost the competitiveness of the fruit and vegetables sector, increase its productivity and improve the bargaining position of farmers.


Even though some progress has been achieved since the 2007 reform, the degree of organisation among producers remains low on average and considerably below the EU average in certain Member States, MEPs say. They stress that this problem needs to be addressed, for instance by simplifying the rules to make producer organisations more attractive to join, and that the EU's fruit and vegetable regime must be further improved.


Further support to producer organisations and young farmers


The Agriculture committee called for an increase in support to producer organisations to provide stronger incentives to merge existing organisations or to create new ones - on both, national and international level. MEPs also want to better monitor the aid for setting up new organisations to ensure that it will increase the income of member producers.


The Commission should restore financial support for the investments of newly established farmers' organisations and further strengthen the effectiveness of producer organisations in terms of concentrating supply, says the adopted text.


Farmers' organisations that decide to take young members should be eligible for special benefits, MEPs say. They note that currently only 7.5% of EU farmers are under 35 years of age and say that well-functioning producer organisations could reverse this unsustainable trend.


Tackling unfair trading practices


Unfair trading practices and the pressure exerted on producers by the large retail chains are the main obstacles to fruit and vegetable farmers earning a decent income, which is a prerequisite for ensuring stable future for farmers and attracting young people to the sector, says the adopted text.


MEPs therefore called on the Commission and member states to step up efforts to tackle these practices for instance by

  • establishing clear EU rules on good practice in the food supply chain,
  • adopting measures to encourage direct marketing of farmers' organisations products, and
  • encouraging the development of local markets for the distribution of fruit and vegetables.

Better crisis response measures


The use of market withdrawals has proved to be limited, MEPs say. To prevent market crisis from turning into serious and lengthy disturbances resulting in significant falls in income for farmers, they want the Commission to consider enhancing the crisis management measures by:

  • increasing the percentage of Union financial assistance,
  • adjusting the withdrawal prices and taking into account the production costs,
  • increasing the volumes that can be withdrawn, and
  • improving the support, in terms of transportation and packaging, for the free distribution of fruits and vegetables.

The Commission could also make contributions to mutual funds to provide better protection for farmers in case of market crises which cause substantial drops in income, MEPs say. But these funds must never come from the budget allocated to agriculture and rural development, when the crisis is caused by issues unconnected with the sector, such as the Russian ban, they add, stressing that in such instances the EU support measures should remain in place until the normal market situation is fully re-established.


Support for R&D and exports, proportional penalties and cutting red tape


MEPs also want the Commission to

  • provide incentives to raise the level of research and innovation in producer organisations to become more competitive and able to deal with the killer diseases that are damaging European agriculture,
  • help producer organisations increase their exports e.g. by removing the third countries' tariff and plant health barriers through trade negotiations,
  • reinforce aid schemes for distribution of fruit, vegetables and milk in schools to promote healthy and balanced diets from a very young age,
  • provide training options to help improve the management of producer organisations,
  • clarify the EU legislation on recognition of producer and interbranch organisations and ensure its rapid and harmonised implementation throughout the Union,
  • increase legal certainty for national administrations, producer organisations and their associations and to reduce the administrative burden imposed on them,
  • abolish mid-term evaluations carried out by National Authorities, and
  • rationalise the controls and apply the principle of proportionality in relation to penalties to prevent existing members from rethinking their participation and encourage new growers to join the scheme.


Procedure: Non-legislative resolution

 

Tuesday, 5 May 2015

In the chair: Czesław Adam SIEKIERSKI (EPP, PL)

Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development