Angry farmers demand more money

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Norwegian farmers, determined to not only preserve their state support but win much more, launched a series of protest actions over the weekend. They claim they need at least three times what the government is offering.

Some farmers are using their tractors to protest what they claim is a poor offer of state support. PHOTO: Views and News

The two main national organizations representing the farmers – Norges Bondelag and Norsk Bonde- og Småbrukarlag – were so insulted by the government’s offer of NOK 900 million (USD 160 million) a year that they broke off scheduled negotiations right after they began. They had demanded NOK 2.2 billion, which state officials claimed was the equivalent of a 20 percent pay hike. Farm lobbyists countered that the big raise was necessary to provide the economic incentive to keep farmers farming and producing food in Norway.

The state’s offer of NOK 625 million plus a one-time allocation of NOK 275 million for a farming development fund amounted to around a third of what the farmers wanted. Their representatives therefore decided they wouldn’t waste time negotiating and instead reverted to demonstrations nationwide.

Tractors blocking traffic
Angry farmers blocked major thoroughfares in Rogaland and Telemark counties by driving their tractors onto local highways. The E39 highway, for example, was blocked by tractors at Dalane in Rogaland while farmers distributed written pleas to motorists stuck in traffic. The main E134 highway through Telemark was also blocked at Hjartdal.

Some farmers drove their tractors into Oslo on Saturday and on Monday morning they disrupted parking lots for commuters at the busy suburban Asker train station. While the Norwegian farmers don’t seem inclined to burn tractor tires or resort to the more dramatic methods used by frustrated farmers in other European countries, they threatened more disruptive demonstrations throughout the week with the exception of Thursday, when Norway will celebrate its Constitution Day on the 17th of May.

Risking customers’ goodwill
With many Norwegian consumers still smarting over the recent butter shortage that resulted from mismanagement by the farmers’ own dairy monopoly Tine, the farmers may be taking at calculated risk at further angering the taxpayers and customers who have supported them for years. The farmers counter that subsidies and other forms of state support like protectionist import tariffs are essential to maintain farming in a high-cost country with difficult geographic and climate conditions for farming. They also deny that Norway’s relatively high food prices are their fault, blaming the grocery wholesalers, retailers and other economic factors instead.

The government called their offer of state support historically high and favourable, with Agriculture Minister Lars Peder Brekk from the traditionally farmer-friendly Center Party saying it was “unfortunate” that the farmers rejected it. The farmers’ organizations scoff at Brekk’s characterization, and claim they’re particularly disappointed that only a third of their demands were met by a government that includes the Center Party. They clearly feel let down by the party for which they traditionally vote, and accused it of giving in to its government coalition partners.

The government’s offer is now set to be forwarded to the Parliament, where it’s likely to be approved. It will provide an average annual pay raise for farmers of around NOK 13,000, in line with raises of around 3 percent being granted other labour organizations nationwide.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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