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French crop growers warn farms at risk after harvest setbacks

PARIS, Sept 8 (Reuters) - Poor harvests this year in France are expected to push most grain growers into the red and could put some farms in less fertile regions out of business, farming representatives said on Tuesday.

Adverse weather, including a parched spring and summer, and insect damage contributed to a sharp drop in cereal and rapeseed production, while also raising the prospect of a plunge in yields in the upcoming sugar beet harvest.

To help farmers in the European Union’s biggest agricultural economy, the government has offered drought relief measures and proposed easing a ban on a type of pesticide to protect sugar beets. It also outlined 1.2 billion euros ($1.4 billion) in support for agriculture in a wider stimulus plan following the coronavirus crisis.

But in areas with less productive soils and faced with negative effects of climate change, this year’s setback comes after several lean years, Sebastien Windsor, head of farming advisory body APCA, said.

“In these zones, if there aren’t rapid support measures there’ll be 15% of farmers who won’t get through this year. It’s an unprecedented phenomenon,” he told a news conference.

Declining yields for rapeseed and sugar beet have also cast doubt what have been profitable outlets for farmers because of related biofuel and sugar industries, growers argue.

Wheat growers group AGPB said more than half of grain farmers are expected to have record negative pre-tax income this year, exacerbating several years of falling income.

“2020 is particularly disastrous for cereal growers,” Philippe Heusele, the AGPB’s general secretary, told a separate news conference.

The AGPB said more short-term aid was needed for farmers, including tax breaks and state-backed loans, while also calling for France to stop shifting EU farm subsidies away from grain growers on the basis of favourable income in the past. ($1 = 0.8479 euros) (Reporting by Gus Trompiz and Sybille de La Hamaide; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

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