Norway’s two main farming organizations handed over a demand for the equivalent to NOK 950 million (USD 118 million) in state financial aid on Friday, as the annual spring subsidy negotiations in the heavily regulated agricultural sector got underway. The demand would amount to pay raises of NOK 24,000 per full-time-equivalent job in the farming industry, or 7 percent.
That’s nearly four times the raises other labour groups are receiving this year, if they get any pay raises at all. The farmers’ representatives, however, claim the farmers’ income lags behind other groups and that they deserve higher pay.
Leif Forsell, chief negotiator for the state, immediately called the farmers’ demand exactly that: “Demanding.” He noted that the farmers’ received raises of around 8 percent last year after unusually noisy negotiations and protest demonstrations and called this year’s demand “high,” since income development in Norway otherwise lies well under 3 percent. “This is therefore a demanding starting point for the negotiation process,” Forsell stated in a press release.
The amount of state aid sought for the farmers includes NOK 490 million in increased subsidy that the farmers hope will be allocated in the annual state budget, plus another NOK 380 million in price hikes on food. The demands come at a time when state officials are trying to lower Norway’s infamously high food prices, introduce agricultural reforms and ease some of the country’s protectionism that often angers international trading partners.
Even though many Norwegian consumers rebel against high food prices by driving over the border to shop in Sweden, there remains political support for the farmers, who stress that farming is difficult and expensive in a country with long winters, short growing seasons and little arable land. There have been reports, though, of farmers dumping potatoes in the forests because the mild winter and warm spring led to record crops that threaten to drive down prices. Dairy cooperative Tine also has reported strong income in the first quarter of this year.
The state must respond to the farmers’ demands by May 5, with negotiations due to be wrapped up by May 15.