Farmers Seek Aid Of $34Bln

The agricultural sector needs more than $34 billion from a government rescue package by the end of 2008 to refinance loans and ride out the global financial crisis, the head of Russia's grain industry lobby said Wednesday.

Russian Grain Union president Arkady Zlochevsky said the country's biggest harvest in 15 years had contributed to falling prices, increasing the strain on farmers struggling to repay debts incurred to buy equipment and improve crop yields.

"The total value of the funding needed to refinance credits in the entire agricultural sector is about 900 billion rubles ($34.4 billion)," Zlochevsky told a news briefing.

Russia has unveiled a series of packages to free up more than $210 billion for the country's banking and industrial sectors and help the economy survive the global liquidity crunch.

Agriculture Minister Alexei Gordeyev last week said some of these funds should be spent on agriculture. He said a revival in the sector was being jeopardized as banks revised loan rates and demanded additional collateral.

Zlochevsky said the high grain crop, expected this year to exceed 100 million tons, combined with falling prices, had created more headaches for farmers.

"Farmers are having to unload their production at low prices to repay loans," he said.

Zlochevsky said Russia could this year harvest up to 107 million tons of grain.