Bulgaria milk farms rally for subsidies

SOFIA (Reuters) – About 200 Bulgarian milk producers gathered in the capital of Sofia yesterday in support of higher subsidies, parading cows they said had starved to death. «We are rallying for survival, not for profit,» farmer Andrian Tsakonski said. He drove a truck to the front of the Agriculture Ministry containing five of his animals that he said had died of cold and hunger. Milk producers in the new European Union member say they need financial support from the government due to high animal feed prices, which jumped sharply after poor crops last year. The farmers said they wanted state-guaranteed loans and subsidies per liter of milk and per animal. The Socialist-led government is expected to vote today to allocate 25 million levs ($18.97 million) for the milk sector under EU-approved state subsidies to help mainly small farms of up to 15 cows. The funding would add up to a total of about 47 million levs planned to support the sector, in which some 130,000 farmers produce an annual milk quota of 979,000 tons. But farmers argue the funding is insufficient. They say they need at least 200 million levs. «If we have no real results by Friday next week, we will block roads across the country,» said Tsakonski, who is also chairman of a regional milk board. Deputy Agriculture Minister Svetla Bachvarova met with representatives of the protesters to discuss their demands. The ministry said it would issue a statement later in the day. Milk producers said the limited funding damaged their competitiveness and expressed fears that many farms would be forced to close down.