TALLINN - A plan to change the way farm subsidies are paid in Estonia is making the nation's farmers apprehensive, the daily Postimees reports.
The Agriculture Ministry plans to replace direct subsidies with development support to encourage more efficient practices. Farmers fear however that the new rules will channel money out of their pockets and into those of operators of 'tourist farms', the paper says.
Member states of the European Union have until the end of this year to present the European Commission with their proposals concerning distribution of farming subsidies, the ministry's deputy secretary general Andres Oopkaup said.
In his words, Estonia backs the view that subsidies to a member state must be calculated on the basis of the size of well-cultivated land and the outlay to cultivate the land rather than historical volumes of production. Estonia is also in favor of increasing development support in the EU budget, which will result in a decrease in direct subsidies.
Under Estonia's current area support system, a large proportion of available subsidies is paid out in accordance with the amount of land owned by the applicant, but the new methods would concentrate more on how well the land is maintained.
"The objective is not for the farmer to drive a huge car but for his activity to benefit society and be acceptable to the taxpayer. The future emphasis of support should be redirected to other spheres for agriculture to develop and cause less pollution," Oopkaup said.
The leader of the farmers' association and manager of Polva Agro, Kalev Kreegipuu, said farmers fear they will get less money in the future if the sum of direct subsidies is cut and development support begins to be paid instead.
"The trend of replacing agricultural production with other kinds of enterprise is not wrong but it has to be taken into account that opportunities for this are quite different in Estonia than in some densely populated state," Kreegipuu said.
In his words, rechanneling direct EU subsidies into development support would be acceptable to farmers only if Estonia paid extra support to current recipients of direct subsidies.