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Horticulture

Russian imports ban: EU props peach, nectarine growers

The European Commission has promised funding for EU growers of peaches and nectarines hit simultaneously by Russia's ban on food imports from Western nations as well as poor weather. Worst hit are orchardists in Greece.

EU Agricultural Commissioner Dacian Ciolos promised "urgent action" to prop up the EU's peach and nectarine market on Monday. Russia imposed its ban last week in retaliation for sanctions over Russia's stance on eastern Ukraine.

Ciolos said Russia's import ban had "further aggravated" a drop in prices for peaches and nectarines already weakened by unseasonable weather that had matured crops far earlier than usual.

Other than Greece, the EU assistance could benefit producers of stone fruits (specifically peaches and nectarines) in Italy, France and recession-hit Spain.

Specter of Spain, France 'peach war'

Last week, France increased cargo checks on trucks bringing fruit from Spain after French growers complained of unfair "dumping" prices. Spain's FEPEX growers' federation denied that, claiming that the crisis was "affecting all European producers."

Last year, Spain exported 910,000 tons of stone fruit - a significant portion of the EU's overall crop of 2.5 million tons of peaches and 1.2 million tons of nectarines.

Ciolos said the EU would formalize its move in the next few weeks and backdate it to Monday.

The aim was to reduce supply by up to 10 percent, he said, and to release funds to promote peaches, given consumers' increasing preferences for fruits such as apricots.

Peaches stranded in Greece

On Saturday, trucks bound for Russia were turned around midroute, leaving 8,000 tons of peaches standing in northern Greece.

Russia's ban also prompted forecasts that Norwegian salmon prices would fall 10 percent. On Friday, Europe's largest dairy cooperative, Arla Foods, stopped production of its goods for the Russian market. Poland, too, would be affected, according to the world association of apple and pear producers, Wapa.

Experts also estimated that Russia's embargo would, in total, affect 10 percent of the EU's food exports and could cause market gluts in Europe.

Russia imports 35 percent of the food it consumes. Outside the EU, Brazil is a big supplier. So, too, was Ukraine until it became embroiled in a separatist conflict with Russia over eastern Ukraine.

ipj/mkg (Reuters, AFP)

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