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Polish govt to compensate farmers hit by unusual heat, drought; crops, meat and milk down

WARSAW, Poland — Poland will pay more than 500 million zlotys ($135 million) in compensation to the thousands of farmers who have lost crops and fodder because of drought and unusually high temperatures, the agriculture minister said Tuesday.

Authorities estimate tens of thousands of Polish farms involving at least 800,000 hectares (2 million acres) have lost large portions of their crops, meat and milk production as pastures have dried up. Grains, corn, vegetables, and fruit have not been growing ripe and some hydrology experts say the lost water won't be compensated until the snow thaws in the spring.

Unusually high temperatures of up to 38 degrees Celsius (100 degrees Fahrenheit) hit the region in July and persisted for weeks. That brought river and groundwater levels down and restricted navigation on Europe's second largest river, the Danube in Romania, and on Poland's main Vistula River. The heat also affected Poland's power grid and cuts were briefly imposed because everyone was using fans, while hot rivers failed to properly cool the generators.

Losses of over 30 per cent of usual crops — a level entitling to compensation — have been confirmed in over 100,000 farms and the counting continues. The government has earmarked over 500 million zlotys for compensations. Agricultural losses were also high in countries like the Czech Republic and Romania.

However, Polish Agriculture Minister Marek Sawicki said the government saw no need to grant the demand of some farmer organizations and announce a state of emergency, which the farmers believed could speed up aid and temporarily lift some of their financial obligations.

State of emergency "will not bring down a downpour of money, or rain," Sawicki said.

Officials were also against such a move because it would have overturned Poland's political calendar, making it impossible to hold general elections on Oct. 25 and a planned referendum on voting regulations and financing of political parties on Sept. 6.

Sawicki has asked the European Commission for assistance in helping the farmers and will be meeting his counterparts in the region soon to hammer out a joint position for a Sept. 7 EU meeting of agriculture ministers from draught-affected countries.

In Romania, the agriculture ministry said last week that any farmer who lost more than 30 per cent of his crops as a result of a lack of rain will receive compensation. Officials will verify individual complaints.

In the Czech Republic, farmers growing potatoes, corn, vegetables and hop, are expected to yield some 30 per cent less than last year.

Zdenek Rosa, who grows a special kind of hop used to make premium beers on 90 hectares in the village of Mutejovice, says he/she expects a yield of less than a half of his usual crop.

"It's a catastrophe," said Rosa, who expects a loss of some 10 million koruna ($414,000) due to the draught.

Monika Scislowska, The Associated Press

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