Angry farmers sit down for talks

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Norwegian farmers were bitterly disappointed with the government’s subsidy offer, but agreed this week to negotiations anyway. The farmers want their annual subsidy raised by nearly NOK 1.9 billion, but the state is only offering NOK 750 million.

A Norwegian farmer works his field in Østfold, outside Moss. PHOTO: Views and News

The farmers already get nearly NOK 20 billion (about USD 3.3 billion) a year in direct and indirect subsidies from Norwegian taxpayers. They currently receive about NOK 9.9 billion in direct subsidies, plus another NOK 9.3 billion worth of indirect subsidies that come in the form of protectionist policies like high tariffs on imports.

That’s why Norwegians pay more than USD 2 for a quart of milk and more than USD 6 for a dozen eggs, and why the price of celery, for example, doubles in the summer. As soon as the much more expensive Norwegian celery comes on the market, the sweeter, less-expensive celery from Israel or Spain disappears.

Last year, reports newspaper Aftenposten, the farmers received a bigger increase in income than in all the years since the 1990s. The current coalition government, of which the farmer-friendly Center Party is a member, has boosted subsidies by NOK 2 billion in the past five years.

Some farmers giving up
Still the farmers aren’t satisfied. They argue that they can’t make ends meet in high-cost Norway without much more state support. Even though one dairy cow in Finnmark can entitle its owner to NOK 34,000 in annual state support, farmers like Kristianne Beldo near the northern city of Alta told Aftenposten she’s struggling to pay for recent improvements to her barn and claims she only gets NOK 7,000 per cow. The rest goes to subsidize products and to farmers’ organizations, the dairy cooperative, the slaughterhouse and feed coops.

Asked why the farmers, known for being a noisy and powerful lobbying group, complain so much after receiving major increases in recent years, Beldo said they just don’t feel they’re getting the proper return on their own investment in labour and facilities.

She admits the farmers have become more demanding. “We’re another generation than our parents, who were satisfied with an occasional Sunday off,” she said. Now more and more farmers are opting for other careers.

Threatened protests
Tensions have been especially high in the run-up to this year’s subsidy talks, and farmers were threatening protests and maybe even disrupting the big Eurovision Song Contest later this month. They demanded NOK 1.9 billion and wanted even more, and expected much more than what the government is offering.

Nils Bjørke of the main farmers’ group Norsk Bondelag claims the income gap will widen, and his colleagues say the offer won’t allow farming to develop or improve.

State officials claim it’s a good offer, with clear priorities aimed at aiding agriculture in outlying areas, and especially milk and meat producers. It also should provide pay raises of about 3.4 percent for farmers, in line with what other organized labour groups have been getting.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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