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Slovak agri-chief demands change in ‘thistle instead of wheat’ scheme

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Agriculture Minister Jozef B?re? will ask the European Commission to change rules on buffer strips, which separate single-crop fields to protect soil and promote biodiversity, but a summer ban on landscaping has left them overgrown with allergens and invasive plant species.

Eco-schemes are coming under fire only one year after their launch. Farmers and environmentalists alike have criticised the ban on landscaping in buffer strips, which forbids farmers from mowing or pulling out weeds in the period from their establishment until the end of July. This gives invasive species, such as thistle, or strong allergens, such as ragweed, enough time to plant roots and become unmanageable.

“I wondered what we got ourselves into,” B?re?, Slovakia’s technocratic Agriculture Minister, said of the new rules, questioning whether farmers and regions were consulted during their preparation.

The minister also confirmed he would ask the European Commission for a change of the rules negotiated by the previous government, confirming that Slovakia will only ask for technical changes and will not remove the buffer zone requirements from eco-schemes altogether.

Vladim?r ?ucha, Head of the European Commission Representation in Slovakia, confirmed that the Commission would be willing to allow the requested changes. However, he advised the minister to go to Brussels as soon as possible with his requests.

Eco-schemes are a new feature of the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy which EU countries have begun implementing this year. While farmers need not implement them, 53% of subsidy claimants in Slovakia have taken part so far.

Far-right politicians in Slovakia’s election campaign are already exploiting the issue and claim the EU is forcing farmers to grow thistles instead of wheat.

However, according to Emil Macho, president of the Slovak Chamber of Agriculture and Food, Slovakia is to blame for the weed issue.

“The excessive bureaucracy is 80% due to Slovak legislation and 20% due to European legislation,” he said, adding that the EU’s agri-subsidies have not been simplified, which was one of the main promises of the agri-policy reform.

In particular, he criticises the process of submitting lease contracts for land and the reporting of personal costs used to calculate the subsidy ceiling per farm.

(Barbara Zmu?kov?, Mari?n Kore?

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