State settles with defiant farmers

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The Norwegian government finally came to terms with the country’s two powerful farm lobbying organizations Monday night, over how much state subsidy and other forms of financial support they’ll receive over the next year. Taxpayers will be forking over another NOK 625 million (USD 74 million).

Lars Petter Bartnes of Norges Bondelag (left), Merete Furuberg of Norsk Bonde- og Småbrukarlag and the state’s lead negotiator Leif Forsell came to terms Monday night. PHOTO: Landbruks- og matdepartementet

An additional NOK 130 million will be released for the farmers’ use from the state agricultural development fund in 2018. The agreement comes after negotiations in line with what a majority agreed on in Parliament earlier this month.

“I’m glad we now have an agricultural agreement in place that will strengthen the basis for food production all over the country,” Agriculture Minister Jon Georg Dale stated after the settlement was reached. “I want to thank the agricultural sector for constructive negotiations.”

They initially were anything but constructive, with angry farmers cutting off the initial round of negotiations when they were offered less than half what they’d demanded. That led to what amounted to a giant food fight, with the state refusing to give the farmers pay raises that would have averaged more than 9 percent. The farmers ended up with raises more in line with the roughly 2.5 percent granted other working groups.

The settlement came about only after the Liberal Party, one of two small parties that normally supports Norway’s conservative government coalition, proposed another compromise that gives more support to small farms. The Liberals also proposed measures that brought the offer up to the NOK 625 million now agreed, from the NOK 410 million initially offered by the state.

Merete Furuberg, leader of the group representing small farmers, and Lars Petter Bartnes of the larger Bondelaget organization were finally smiling again after sealing the deal with Leif Forsell, the top administrator in the agricultural ministry.

“Bondelaget broke off negotiations because the government gave us an offer that didn’t address the challenges in Norwegian agriculture,” Bartnes claimed. “The Parliament raised the level, but it’s nonetheless too low to allow necessary investments.” His organization thus signalled that it will be making higher demands next year.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund