Farmers try to win more support

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UPDATED: Norwegian farmers’ organizations said they were “disappointed and surprised” when the left-center government coalition, which includes the country’s most farmer-friendly party, only offered them half of the taxpayer support they’d demanded. They still stand to get average pay raises of around 8.5 percent, though, and decided over the weekend to enter into negotiations with the state.

The sale of rural properties in Norway can be a complicated and hazardous business. PHOTO: Views and News

Farms in Norway are often scenic and appear prosperous, but farmers are constantly complaining that they don’t earn enough money and need even higher prices for their products. PHOTO: newsinenglish.no

The decision to bargain further with the state makes it unlikely the farmers will resort to the sorts of protest actions they held last year. That’s when they drove their tractors into cities and towns, set up unflattering caricatures of Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg all over the country and dumped cattle dung in front of public buildings. They felt betrayed by their own political party that shares government power with Stoltenberg’s Labour Party. This year the state’s offer “was a little better at the outset than last year,” Nils T Bjørke of the farmers’ main organization, Norges Bondelag, told news bureau NTB. He said it remained uncertain whether the farmers’ groups would come to terms with the state. Negotiations were due to run through this week.

Most workers in Norway, not least in other countries, would be thrilled with a pay hike of 8.5 percent, which amounts to around NOK 25,000 (USD 4,310) per year. The farmers, though, had demanded NOK 47,000 in extra state funding (in the form of direct subsidies and tariff protection from imports). They argued that Norwegian farmers in general earn less than other Norwegians on average, and they needed to narrow the gap to both keep farmers farming and recruit more folks to till the soil.

“We are surprised and extremely disappointed,” Merete Furuberg of the other farmers’ organization, Norsk Bonde- og Småbrukarlag, told NTB after the state’s offer was presented in line with the revised state budget. “We had great expectations, but there’s great distance between us and the state.”

Last year the farmers refused to even negotiate when the state offered less than half of what they wanted. They did, however, later win a major round of tariff protection from the government that Stoltenberg had a hard time justifying to his European colleagues.

The NOK 1.02 billion package offered by the state so far includes permission to further raise prices for basic food items by a total of NOK 470 million. That means roughly another 0.5 percent price rise at the grocery store, which the farmers don’t think is enough to encourage increased production of meat, grain and basic vegetables in Norway.

National employers’ organization NHO wasn’t satisfied with the state’s offer of support for farmers either, but for different reasons. NHO would prefer to see the higher price allowance converted into more direct subsidy, to fend off more price rises for consumers that widen the already-huge gap between food prices in Norway and food prices abroad, further weakening the Norwegian food industry’s ability to compete internationally.

“We understand that farmers need more income,” wrote NHO in a press release, “but it’s the state that should foot the bill, not the consumer and the market.”

Bjørke, who often has shown little regard for the customers of Norwegian farmers, didn’t seem to appreciate NHO’s support. “If our demand for price hikes had been granted it would mean that the average Norwegian would have to spend around NOK 120 more on food per year,” Bjørke told NTB. “I think people are willing to pay that to maintain agriculture in Norway.”

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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