Apples
UK apple farmers are expected to be hit hardest by the trade banD H Wright/Flickr

The UK government has been accused of failing British farmers by refusing to give them access to emergency EU funds, introduced following Russia's ban on the import of fresh produce from Europe.

On 29 September, the EU launched a €165m ($210m, £130m) fund for perishable fruit and vegetables. Despite the UK having zero imports of fruit to Russia, UK farmers qualify for the compensation due to the surplus of fruit and vegetables the ban creates, which has driven prices down.

"We're seeing a price depression. Growers can't sell their crops and the UK government is not allowing our producers to compete on a level-playing field by taking up the EU option," Chris Hartfield, horticultural policy adviser at the National Farmers' Union (NFU), told IBTimes UK.

The NFU believes that the amount of funds available (which would cover crop surpluses up to 3,000 tonnes), coupled with the administrative cost of retrieving the funds from the EU, has led the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) to reject the EU's offer.

A source at the European Commission's Directorate-General for Agriculture and Rural Development told this publication that as far as they knew, the UK was the only country to have rejected the EU's funds.

Hartfield said that as a result, UK farmers will have to either destroy the crops, or sell them for animal stock at a much-reduced rate. Apples farmers are expected to be hit hardest, with the collective losses expected to run into hundreds of thousands of pounds.

A Defra spokesperson told IBTimes UK: "Using taxpayers' cash to destroy perfectly good UK fruit and vegetables is not an acceptable use of public money, particularly given that removing a further 3,000 tonnes of UK produce from Europe is unlikely to have any significant impact on prices.

"Apples can be stored and market conditions may improve later in the winter."

The €165m package of emergency aid is the second the DG Agriculture has launched since Russia banned the import of fresh produce from the EU in August. The first – worth €125m – had to be put on hold after it was so heavily-oversubscribed.

"Provisional applications showed that the full budget allocation had already been claimed. In order to be better targeted, the new scheme includes an annex outlining eligible volumes in individual Member States with specific figures per product group," said a statement on the DG's website.

However, the departmental source explained that no statistics are available as to how much of the funds have been drawn-down. Producers must first claim the compensation from their national governments, which in turn seek reimbursement from Brussels.

"UK growers are yet again put in an uncompetitive position due to the government's actions," Hartfield said.

Protests swept the continent in response to the perceived lack of support from the EU, from national governments and from the commercial sector.

In August, Spain's agricultural unions dumped potatoes outside one of Europe's largest retailers in protest against low prices, amid sanctions on EU produce from Russia.

The Union de Pequenos Agriultores Granaderros (UPA) organised a protest in Granada, during which suppliers dumped their stocks outside Carrefour, accusing the French retail giant of squeezing farmers by paying too little for their crops.

In September, Spanish farmers distributed 10,000kg of fruit in protest against the ban.

The NFU's horticulture and potatoes chairman, Guy Poskitt, said; "By deciding not to take up this allocation, ministers have again denied UK producers the opportunity to take up aid which is otherwise being snapped up by our European neighbours. This feels like a slap in the face. How can we compete against imports when we are consistently facing an uneven playing field?"