Amsterdam - Tonnes of tomatoes, pears and apples were being dumped by Dutch farmers on Wednesday as they signed up for compensation after prices plunged in response to Russian sanctions on Western food imports, officials said.
Around 45 major food growers registered for EU compensation with the Netherlands Enterprise Agency, which is coordinating the Dutch programme, under which their oversupply can be donated to charity or destroyed.
The Netherlands, the world's second-largest exporter of agricultural products, sells hundreds of millions of euros worth of vegetables, fruit and food products to Russia every year.
The Dutch statistics office has estimated the country's agriculture sector will suffer about 300 million euros ($395.5 million) in lost business this year, with Russia accounting for about 10 percent of Dutch exports of vegetables, fruit and meat.
Wednesday is the first day Dutch farmers could sign up for the compensation for either having their produce destroyed or given to the Food Bank, a charity that supplies food to 35,000 needy Dutch households.
“We are talking about a very large quantity of fruit and vegetables,” said Michel van der Maas, a spokesman for the Netherlands Enterprise Agency, who said the exact amount was still unknown. “It's many tonnes.”
“Most of the products are being taken to destruction plants, rather than the Food Bank,” he said. “There hasn't been a lot of interest from the producers” to donate to charity, he said.
The European Union and Washington imposed sanctions in the wake of the shooting down on July 17 of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17, allegedly by pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine.
The downing of the plane had particular significance in the Netherlands since two-thirds of the 298 victims were Dutch nationals.
The sanctions flooded the European market with cheap farm produce, prices of which were already depressed due to oversupply from a good summer crop.
Prices for major export products, such as apples, pears, tomatoes and peppers, fell by more than 50 percent at one point, but have stabilised in recent days due to poor weather.
Several tonnes of tomatoes were expected at the Food Bank, said Monny Querido, a board member.
“It started with the disastrous shooting down of MH17 ... but that has brought good news to the clients of the Food Bank, who will be getting some very welcome fruit and vegetables,” Querido said in an interview. “We expect the first loads of thousands of kilos of tomatoes to arrive later today.”
The bulk of the compensation for the Dutch farmers will come out of 125 million euros from the EU Commission's Common Agricultural Policy fund. Separately, the Dutch government said it would foot the bill for logistics, by transporting excess produce to eight Food Bank distribution centres across the Netherlands.
Farmers will be compensated if the price of their products has fallen below a threshold set by the European Union.
The Dutch Safety Board is expected to release the results of an investigation into the MH17 disaster next week, but it will not assign blame.