Farmers want 20 percent pay hike

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The powerful organizations representing Norwegian farmers (bondelagene) have delivered a written demand for NOK 2.2 billion (around USD 386 million) worth of subsidies and other forms of economic support. State officials claimed the demand amounts to a pay hike of 20 percent.

Norway's small farms and rural landscapes are attractive but expensive to maintain, with taxpayers and consumers paying high prices to support local agriculture. PHOTO: Views and News

Leif Forsell of the state agricultural ministry, who’ll be leading the annual spring subsidy negotiations with the farmers, only half-jokingly suggested the farmers have been taking too much of the cod liver oil known as tran in Norway. A recent report from statistics bureau SSB showed that farmers’ average income already rose 8 percent in 2010.

“It can be worth mentioning that economic circumstances call for moderation to preserve competitiveness, also for farmers and their products,” Forsell said upon receipt of the farm lobby’s demands. “The government is maintaining tight budget policies and in that perspective, it’s rather excessive to demand an annual pay hike of NOK 50,000.”

Norway has a long political tradition of heavily subsidizing agriculture to maintain economic activity in rural areas and to ensure local food production. The subsidies along with strict market regulations and high import tariffs that can keep foreign goods out of the market have come under increasing pressure lately, not least after serious miscalculations by state dairy cooperative Tine led to a severe shortage of butter last autumn and well into the winter. Tine was forced to allow foreign butter into the market and apologize for what many viewed as market arrogance. Its chief spokesman recently resigned.

Meanwhile, thousands of Norwegians continue to drive over the border to load up on groceries in neighbouring Sweden, and border trade recently set another record. Even though Sweden is also expensive by European standards, prices there can be as much as 40 percent lower than in Norway.

State officials have said they want more competition and better choices for Norwegian consumers. The farmers, though, aren’t budging in their demand that Norwegian taxpayers continue to support their efforts to keep agriculture viable in a country known for small farms, high costs and a demanding climate.

Nils T Bjørke of Norges Bondelag, who will lead the farmers’ negotiations, said their demand is a response to the “challenges and obligations” that he has derived from a recent state report on goals for agriculture and food production in Norway.

The state will respond with is annual offer to the farmers around May 7. Negotiations are scheduled to continue until May 16.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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