By Alexandra Gineva
- The subsidies for stockbreeders amount to 140 million BGN. This includes both the complementary national payments and the part coming from the European Agricultural Guarantee Fund, which we’ve been paying out annually since 2010, or the so called specific support schemes for the dairy sector. For the sake of comparison, this year we will pay 40 million BGN more than in 2011 and 80 million BGN more than in 2009. The payments for stockbreeders have been increasing steadily in the past few years.
We have already started paying some of the schemes. In October, we transferred the first complementary national payments per animal decoupled with production. This scheme supports farmers who raise buffalo, cattle, goats and sheep. In November, we will pay the funds coming from the EU programmes for the dairy cattle sector. Since Bulgaria joined the EU, the stockbreeding sector has been a little neglected. The reason is the Single Area Payment Scheme, which we had to implement as part of the Common Agricultural Policy according to our accession treaty. This scheme is based on land, while Bulgarian stockbreeders either don’t have enough land or the land they have is not eligible for EU support. In 2009, we introduced schemes for complementary national payments. Bulgaria can complement its financial package with funds from the national budget and we targeted the schemes at stockbreeders. In 2009, the payments totalled 60 million BGN. This was the first scheme supporting cattle breeders – the so called schemedecoupled from production. This means that the scheme supports breeders for the animals they had as of February 28th 2009. The subsidy amount depends on the number of animals on their farm by that date. The reason for implementing such schemes is the CAP goal to reduce payments coupled to production. This is how we received a permission to implement a complementary scheme for cattle breeding.
Goat and sheep breeders also receive funding, but on the basis of the number of animals they currently breed. All these schemes were also implemented in 2010 when we introduced a new specific support scheme as well. It is financed by the European Agricultural Guarantee Fund and exclusively targets famers who breed dairy cattle. Once again, this scheme funds farmers based on the animals they currently have.
Subsidy levels increased by 18 million BGN from 2010 to 2011 and, as I said, the sum for 2012 is 140 million BGN. Part of the funds will be paid in 2012 and the rest – in January 2013. The benefit of this funding scheme is that payments are balanced and stockbreeders can plan their expenses during the difficult winter months in advance.
Overall, there is a very good trend of continual increase in stockbreeder funding. Also, I must stress the improved method of administering applications. In 2009, we didn’t have a good registry for animals and animal farms. Our colleagues from the Bulgarian Food Safety Agency (BFSA) created a new system that is directly connected to State Fund Agriculture’s system. It makes every animal and farm traceable. We can see where an animal is, if it is earmarked, etc.
- This must also facilitate control. I remember that, in the past, there were cases of farmers who didn’t have any animals but still received funds.
- This is correct. Besides relying on BFSA’s system, we check at least 10% of all applications. These checks show that, in the past few years, problems have been reflected in the system much more quickly and precisely.
- You said the level of subsidies for the sector has been steadily growing since 2009 and that farmers’ income has also increased. Does this mean that Bulgaria successfully realizes its milk quota and that, generally, we produce milk and meat that is more competitive? We know that Bulgarian milk and meat are sought on the EU market.
- We can say that. Of course, we must also say that the direct payments and subsidies per animal are not investment measures. Their goal is to supplement income. On the other hand, many Bulgarian farms are third category farms and we have discussed this with our colleagues at the BFSA. If farms do not restructure into a higher category by the end of next year, they will lose their right to sell in Bulgaria as well. This is a real problem, especially since there are almost 200 000 animals in those farms. However, there are opportunities for making investments with funds from the Rural Development Programme so farms can meet the legal requirements – both national and European, and become capable to compete with their colleagues in other member states. I couldn’t say there is a serious interest in those measures right now. From my personal experience and conversations with beneficiaries, I know they don’t apply because they don’t have the financial means to start a project and then wait for the RDP subsidy. But I hope that when the Guarantee Fund starts working within the next couple of weeks, stockbreeders will apply under the RDP. Because this is their way out; their opportunity to actually become a part of the EU market.
- You mentioned the Rural Development Programme. In your opinion, which important measures should be emphasized at the end of this programme period?
- I would first like to stress the work of State Fund Agriculture (SFA) in Axis 2 of the RDP. Axis 2 includes Measure 214: Agri-environment payments, NATURA 2000, which started last year, the measures for regions with natural handicaps. These are the so-called compensatory payments that don’t have an investment element. Their goal is to compensate farmers for working in handicapped regions and using practices that go beyond mandatory agriculture requirements. The Axis 2 measures started relatively late, with the exception of those for handicapped regions, which we have been applying since the start of the programme. Agri-environment and NATURA 2000 were delayed. Moreover, there were many administrative problems in the first years of Measure 214 because it requires information exchange between many institutions. It is not administered only by SFA. The veterinary service participates, as well as the regional offices of national parks, the breeding associations, the certification agencies for organic farming. Many different players are involved in administering it. In the beginning, beneficiaries were not prepared and didn’t know the requirements well enough – what activities are supported, what the conditions are, what rules they have to follow. This is why interest in the first years was very low and subsidies were not paid in full or were discontinued. There were many problems in the first two years – 2008 and 2009. We can say that Measure 214 wasn’t working well enough. But we made a lot of effort to improve the administrative capacity. We created a special department in SFA that deals only with these applications and we have a team of specialists who can solve difficult cases at any time, communicate with other institutions, ask for information and clarify issues. A lot of seminars and information campaigns were also organized and I can see a significant increase in the interest in the measure. Just as an example, the land declared in 2012 was two and a half times more than in 2011. The number of declared animals, bees and bee families, has also grown. We should not forget that, after the sixth RDP notification in December 2011, payment levels increased for each direction of support within the measure. This gave farmers a further incentive to participate because they saw they can actually receive compensations that are equal in value to the additional efforts they make to fulfill the requirements. Of course, our meetings with different farmer associations also helped a lot.
- Is the procedure difficult? How many people in SFA work with these projects? Is it hard to apply?
- This year, we will publish a brochure about submitting documentsand applying Measure 214 in 2013. It describes all directions of support very well. Otherwise, the application process is not complicated. In fact, farmers already apply many of the supported activities. An example is crop rotation – one of the activities farmers had no interest in so far. By 2012, we had received 3 applications. During campaign 2012, farmers submitted 103 applications and declared a total of about 70 000 ha for support. And crop rotation is something every responsible farmer who makes a living out of agriculture does anyway. We must also note that, every year, we review the national legislation in this area so we can simplify things. If we see that something doesn’t work, that some document we require cannot be issued or is hard to issue, we think of alternative ways of control so we can keep the respective requirement without requesting a document. This year, again, we revised the method of applying sanctions in order to simplify control as much as we can in terms of the information we request from farmers.