RIGA - The pastures of Latgale and Vidzeme were littered with dead cattle on May 30, as post-flood gnats swarmed over the cattle and bit many to death. Farmers across eastern regions were devastated, losing some 432 head of cattle.
Anna Joffe, spokeswoman of the Latvian Food and Veterinary Service, said the total number dead included 421 cows, two pigs, two sheep and seven horses. Farmers in the Preili district suffered the heaviest damage, with 171 cows and two horses perishing after being bitten by the insects. In the Kraslava region farmers lost 165 cows, two pigs, three horses and two sheep.
Recent flooding, warm weather and a late spring have caused gnats to thrive in large numbers. The veterinary service is concerned that the bugs may trigger an outbreak of pasterelosis, a bovine infectious disease, in local cattle. Once an analysis for the disease is confirmed, authorities will decide on vaccines for the remaining cattle and draw up a quarantine plan.
Inguna Gulbe, head of the agriculture market promotion agency, said that the loss of farm animals in Latgale would neither influence the national dairy industry nor cattle farming as a whole since, due to the country's shortage of cattle for export, Latvia was already unable to cover its quota prior to the malaise.
Gulbe stressed that such widespread death was a tragedy for farmers. The Agriculture Ministry called a special meeting on May 30 to decide on possible aid to farmers whose cattle were affected. Minister Martins Roze told the press that the abovementioned farmers would be granted a total of about 1 million lats (1.4 million euros) in compensation.
The minister said the government had in mind two plans on how to allocate the money. "There may be investments used by the government to pay for the purchase of each new cow, while the second alternative would be to cover the damages for each dead animal," Roze explained.
Meanwhile, the Food and Veterinary Service is bracing for more hardship and has delivered medicine worth a total of about 5,000 lats to areas suffering from the loss, Roze said. "The attacks of gnats are expected to continue for the next couple of weeks, but they have already peaked, and now farmers have to make sure that cattle are kept in their sheds, where they are protected from the insects," the minister said.