One Norwegian farmer set fire to his tractor this week. Others drove their tractors and livestock trucks slowly on major highways to create traffic congestion, while traffic was all but halted on the highway running through the heart of the valley known as Gudbrandsdalen. They’re all protesting the state’s subsidy offer that was reluctantly accepted this week by farming organizations.
Many farmers are resigning in protest from their local farming organizations, after their representatives accepted an increase of NOK 1.5 billion in state aid, far less than the NOK 2.6 billion the farmers had demanded. The state initially had only offered NOK 1 billion, making the farmers furious before the offer was sweetened.
It represents a pay hike of around 10 percent for the average farmer, far more than most workers get, but they claimed they needed 18 percent to avoid lagging behind other pay settlements in real terms.
They didn’t get it, and they’re letting their dissatisfaction be known. They feel the Norwegian public can tolerate even higher food prices than they already do, to preserve farming as a viable occupation in Norway and food production within the country.
Norway’s left-center government coalition, which includes the farmer-friendly Center Party (Sp), agreed to cut some taxes for farmers, which alone will cost the state around NOK 615 million a year. Prices for milk (which already costs nearly NOK 15 per liter, or nearly USD 3 a quart) are expected to rise along with those for other products like eggs and fruit and vegetables, while some protectionist tariffs on imports may be raised.
All told, farmers will receive an annual pay raise of NOK 25,000 on average (nearly USD 5,000). They’re already the most highly subsidized farmers in the world but keep complaining that they can’t earn a living off their farms. Most farmers also hold other jobs, or a variety of jobs, to augment their income off the land.
“I feel rather resigned about this, and even more uncertain as to whether I can recommend that the next generation keeps farming,” Elisabeth Irgens Hokstad, a full-time farmer near Larvik, told newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN). She was among those disappointed over the state’s subsidy deal, since she mostly lives off state support.
The total value of state payments and protectionist laws and regulations in Norway amounted to NOK 23 billion in 2009, according to calculations by the OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development). That makes up 66 percent of the the average Norwegian farmer’s gross income, reported DN, the highest among the world’s other most heavily subsidized countries like (in descending order) Switzerland, Korea, Iceland and Japan.