Hungary joins other "frontline" member states regarding Ukrainian import

Minister pledges €1.7 billion from national budget for agriculture subsidies; winter rains cause farmlands to waterlog; prices increased in 2023 by 17.6%; meat to be destroyed to stop ASF spread; authorities issue rabies warning; invasive animal threatens flora, nature park warns - Our weekly briefing on agriculture, food and nature news in Hungary

In a close-up aerial shot, a combine harvester can be seen, harvesting a field of wheat or some other cereal. Ambient lighting makes the photo more dramatic, suggesting that it is late afternoon. There is a trail of dust behind the machine as it is mowing down stalks of crops, leaving behind it an empty field.
Beeld: ©Scott Goodwill

Agriculture minister says farm subsidies are “ensured”

At a year-opening press conference, Minister for Agriculture István Nagy has told the press that agriculture subsidies are ensured for 2024, with a pledge of €1.7 billion from the central budget to complement EU rural development funds. The agriculture minister also called the EU sanctions against Russia and the “dumping of Ukrainian imports in the EU” challenging, however, Mr. Nagy commented that the achievements in recent years show that Hungarian agriculture will continue to thrive. István Jakab, head of the Hungarian Farmers’ Circles organization, Fidesz MEP and Deputy Speaker of the National Assembly, called on Copa-Cogeca to support the protesting German farmers.

The deputy president of the National Chamber of Agriculture (NAK) used the occasion to articulate a political message about the “dark green policies” of the “liberal-green-social democrat German government”, which “makes farmers pay for its support to Ukraine and its flawed economic policy,” and that the “EU’s agriculture policy is a dead end,” and that “the government is always representing the interests of those working in agriculture,” further commenting that in the upcoming European Parliamentary elections, a “clear message has to be sent to Brussels” that “farmers’ money should not be spent on other things.”

“Frontline” member states, including Hungary, send letter to Commission about Ukraine imports

The news portal Agrofó reported on Wednesday that agriculture ministers from the so-called “frontline” member states of Bulgaria, Poland, Hungary, Romania and Slovakia have sent a letter to the Commission urging for the introduction on import tariff quotas for Ukrainian grain.

The five signing countries are among the six EU member states that produce more wheat and corn, which are crucial for European food security and the strategic sovereignty of the EU, the ministers announced. The ministers also said that since the suspension of import duties, quotas and other trade defense measures, the five members states in the neighborhood have “experienced significant disruptions” due to the “sudden and significant surge of imports of agricultural products.”

The ministers are also imploring the Commission to investigate whether Ukraine’s production standards are in line with the EU’s regulations.

Last September, Hungary’s government reinstated the country’s unilateral import restrictions on Ukrainian products, along with similar measures taken by Slovakia and Poland.

High precipitation causes waterlogging

The News portal reported last weekend that due to the rainy weather in the first half of January, large areas are now under water. About 200 thousand hectares of farmland is currently waterlogged, with 300-400 thousand hectares severely oversaturated with water. Tamás Petőházi, Vice President of the National Cereal Producers Alliance, has told InfoRadio that the soils are generally in good condition in the country.

Fall and winter are the colder, high-precipitation periods of the year when soil moisture levels are restored. A dry winter with little or no snowpack leads to dry soils, which can exacerbate spring and summer droughts – Which was the case during the catastrophic 2022 European drought, which devastated Hungarian agriculture.

The news portal Agrá reported that farmers whomst they interviewed are generally satisfied with the rainy weather. The news portal put the figure of farmland affected by water saturation and water logging at around 500 to 500 thousand hectares.

Statistical Office: Prices increased by 17.6% in 2023

Recent data from the Central Statistical Office (KSH) shows that in December, consumer prices rose by a mean 17.6% y-o-y. The consumer price of food increased higher than the mean, by 25.9%, with the highest increases observed in the categories of sugar (42.1%), chocolate and cocoa (17.2%), non-alcoholic beverages (16.1%), and coffee (14.1%).

Within the product group, the price of eggs decreased by 18.1%, flour by 17.8%, cheese by 15.5%, butter and margarine by 14.5%, dry pasta by 11.0%, and milk by 10.3%. The price of household energy increased by 22.1%, the price of other goods and fuels increased by 18.6%, alcoholic beverages and tobacco by 15.4%, services by 13.2%, clothing items by 8.3%, and durable consumer goods by 5.6%.

Game meat to be destroyed despite declining ASF numbers

Agrá reports that game meat coming from highly endangered areas still has to be destroyed as African Swine Fever is still present in wild boar populations in Hungary, despite declining infection numbers, the National Food Chain Safety Office (NÉBIH) informed the portal.

The animal disease has been present in the country since April, 2018. Following an initial, rapid spread of ASF, until 2020, nine out of Hungary’s nineteen counties had been affected, and in 2021, the disease entered Fejér county, in Central-Western Hungary.

In 2022, 698 cases of African Swine Fever infections have been identified in the wild boar population, however, in 2023, the number of cases was only 444. No case of infection has been identified among domestic pig livestock. However, strict veterinary measures are still in place and game meat from areas designated as highly endangered still needs to be destroyed.

Authorities issue rabies warning

Multiple cases of rabies infection in dogs and golden jackals have been confirmed by investigators from the National Food Chain Safety Office (NÉBIH) and the Hungarian Veterinary Chamber, the organizations announced this week. The infection was identified in canine carcasses in Szabolcs-Szatmár Bereg County.

The new cases were identified in areas where the authorities had previously implemented numerous epidemiological measures, including increased supervision, dog restrictions and the culling of foxes, after rabies cases were reported in the region last fall. We have also reported on the presence of rabies in the area in November. The rabies virus is dangerous for all animals including humans.

Invasive rodent causes issues in nature

The Balaton Uplands National Park reported recently on the expanding population of nutria (Myocastor coypus) in South-West Hungary. The self-sustaining population of the animal has gained a foothold in various local streams and the Mur river. Nutria is a herbivorous, semiaquatic rodent originally indigenous to South America, which was spread in other continents for its fur. The first sighting of the animals was in 2016, in Zala County, in the Alpine Foothills, West Hungary.

According to the National Park’s statement, managing the situation is complicated by the fact that gamekeepers lack an incentive to curb the spread of the invasive species as long as it is only a conservation issue and does not cause significant damage to agriculture. Furthermore, there is an almost continuous replenishment of the animal’s population through neighboring Slovenia and Austria.