Greece is grappling with the destructive impact of Storm Daniel on one of its most recognisable exports: feta cheese.
Some 40 per cent of the country’s soft cheeses are made from sheep and goat milk produced in the central region of Thessaly, which was devastated by the floods that ripped through several Mediterranean countries this month. Greek farmers lost an estimated 80,000 goats and sheep in the disaster — and keeping the surviving animals alive is difficult amid high water levels and scarce feed.
As farmers reel from the destruction of their livelihoods, the fallout of the torrents is also having an impact on the region’s industry. “The largest blow is that many breeders in the area say that after the flood, they don’t want to return to their profession,” said Christos Apostolopoulos, president of the association of Greek dairy industries.
Farmers expect millions of euros in damage from Storm Daniel, the worst to hit the country in nearly a century. More than 700 tonnes of rain per acre fell in just 12 hours on September 7 — almost double the amount that typically falls in Athens in one year.
In Greece, 16 people died in the floods. About a quarter of the land used for agriculture and industrial production in Thessaly was inundated — and will probably not be fertile for years to come — along with hundreds of buildings, with many bridges and parts of the country’s rail and road networks destroyed.
Analysts warn about the storm’s long-lasting impact on the economy.
“Everyone talks about the cost of the floods . . . in a few months, there will be chain reactions [leading] especially small businesses to collapse,” said Yannis Karastergios, an agricultural consultant in the area. Other than lost livestock, he said many warehouses could not be repaired, with farmers losing tonnes of feed.
“Years of hard work were destroyed in two days,” said Karastergios. “It’s not easy to recreate warehouses and set up a herd from scratch.”
Greece makes about 140,000 tonnes a year of feta, exporting about 65 per cent of the production.
“Producers will face a dilemma soon, as they will have less milk production; they will have to choose where to send their products,” said Apostolopoulos, who estimates that feta makers will focus on export markets. “The shortages will be more apparent in Greece,” he said.
Greece’s largest feta factory is Hellenic Dairies, which is based in Trikala in northwestern Thessaly. It had to shut down for two weeks as water and mud covered the machinery, with estimated damages of €25mn. The factory has since reopened.
Stelios Sarantis, chief commercial officer of Hellenic Diaries, acknowledged that large businesses like his will have to incur part of the losses. “Every year, we fund animal breeders,” he said. “This time, the amount that we will give will be larger, we have no other choice.”
Feta prices had already soared about 40 per cent in the past two years due to inflation, driving a 10 per cent drop in local demand. For Sarantis, that decline will be enough to prevent shortfalls. “There will be less feta around, but I don’t think there will be any shortages.”
Another feta maker, Nikolaos Bizios, of Bizios Dairy Industry, said prices for the cheese could spike even more if animal feed costs increase. “It’s a hard equation that needs to be solved, as crops and factories with animal food have been flooded,” he said.
While a clearer picture of the total cost of the storm damage emerges, the European Commission has said Athens could tap up to €2.25bn in emergency funding and Greek prime minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said the country’s strong economy would help it “withstand the costs of reconstruction”.
Greece is allocating an additional €600mn to the budget to address immediate funding needs caused by the storm damage. Mitsotakis added that a special reserve account for national disasters would be doubled from next year to €600mn, funded through a higher occupancy tax on luxury hotels.
But the promise of aid offers little solace to agricultural businesses that have grown to distrust authorities’ handling of natural calamities.
Greece allocated €200mn for regional reconstruction and flood prevention in regions such as Thessaly when it was hit by a milder storm in 2020.
“Someone must be held accountable; whose fault was this disaster, and what happened to the funds given a few years ago that supposedly would protect us from future storms?” asked Vasilis Patsialis, a large wheat and cotton producer based in the western Thessaly town of Karditsa.
That feeling of helplessness is echoed throughout the region.
“This is the second time that we are called to rebuild our herds,” said Fotis Patounis, president of the livestock breeders’ association of Palamas, the Greek village hit hardest by Storm Daniel. “In the previous flood, our animals drowned and our lands were flooded, but we managed to survive.”
In addition to the lost goats and sheep, locals now have to deal with severe damage to their homes and destroyed farming equipment and machinery. “Many of my colleagues tell me they don’t have the drive to start again,” Patounis said.
“This time round the disaster could be beyond repair,” he added. “Many local producers are ready to desert their villages and move to cities. It all depends on how much help the government will provide for them.”
Source: Financial Times