Fruit growers pleading for aid as crop decimated by frost

Ljubljana – The cold snap that hit Slovenia this week caused damage to all types of fruit orchards nation-wide, as well causing injury to vineyards, olive groves and legumes, initial estimates by the Chamber of Agriculture and Forestry (KGZS) show. In some areas all fruit crop is gone.

“Never before have fruit growers been in such a difficult situation,” Boris Orešek, the head of the KGZS’s fruit growing section, told an online press conference on Friday after record low temperatures wreaked havoc at orchards and plantations across the country.

“On the one hand we have cold rooms still full of last year’s apples and pears that are hard to sell, and on the other hand we have orchards all but empty for frost already,” said Orešek.

The damage was caused by extremely low temperatures and the lengthy frost. The region of Primorska, which has the mildest climate, has had frost since March and in other parts of the country it set in at the beginning of this week. The coldest were the nights to Wednesday and Thursday.

Injury to apple and pear blossoms in the Maribor, Celje and Ptuj areas is 50-70%, while the proportion of damaged blossoms of other trees such as peaches and plums is 60-100%.

In Istria and Primorska even vegetables in greenhouses were affected by temperatures that fell to minus 6.5 Celsius and in the broader Nova Gorica area 80-100% of fruit trees are injured.

Andreja Brence, a specialist on fruit growing from Novo Mesto, described the situation in Dolenjska, Bela Krajina and Posavje as a “catastrophe”, assessing there would be but a handful of stone tree fruits this year.

Alenka Caf, an official from Ljubljana reported about damage to blueberries, despite them being used to low temperatures.

The growers that have used over-tree sprinklers to protect their orchards have been able to rescue some of the crop, and some have resorted to burning fires and creating smoke, all of are effective measures to an extent.

However, Brence said this time the problem was exceptionally low temperatures for the time of year, dropping to minus 10 Celsius and lower in some parts.

Data from the Agricultural Institute show between 100 and 120 hectares of orchards in Slovenia have over-tree sprinkler systems, which means less than 3% of all intensive plantations, the institute’s official Matej Stopar said.

Farming consultants highlighted the red tape involved in investments in such systems as well as the fact that the systems in place in the Vipava Valley are not functioning because the irrigation system there is under reconstruction.

KGZS boss Roman Žveglič appealed for prompt state aid in response to the disaster. “The sooner the government realises there will be no food without agriculture, the easier will be for us to make changes and urgent adjustments.”

The chamber is drawing up a number of proposals, including for an emergency act and a law that would simplify procedures to acquire permits for irrigation and sprinkler systems and allow to put them in place wherever there is enough water.

They are also calling for exempting Covid state aid to the sector from tax and Orešek called for direct financial aid for fruit growers and write-offs of some levies and rents, among other things, which he said were needed for the industry to survive over the next two years.

Agriculture Minister Jože Podgoršek has already appointed a taskforce to find solutions to mitigate the disaster, including an emergency bill to help those affected, as well as exemptions for social security contributions.

The minister is expected to inspect the damage on the ground on Monday when he is also due to meet the stakeholders to discuss solutions and adaptation to climate change.