Norway’s two largest farmers’ organizations have opted to accept NOK 1.1 billion in financial assistance from the state this year, much less than the NOK 1.83 billion they’d initially demanded. They also agreed to go along with programs aimed at preventing over-production.
The agreement marks the first time that the farmers have come to terms with Norway’s conservative government coalition since it first won power in 2013. Both Norges Bondelag, which represents owners of relatively large farms, and Norske Bonde- og Småbrukarlag, which represents owners of small farms, decided against challenging the state by breaking off negotiations and trying to get more out of Parliament.
The farmers have resorted to noisy, disruptive and often messy demonstrations against the government in recent years, but clearly didn’t think they’d prevail this time around. After years of campaigning for state subsidy and tariff protection on the grounds that Norway must ensure that it’s able to produce its own food, the farmers had to admit they have produced much more than the market needs (especially meat) without consumers getting any price relief. That hasn’t been popular, and it also has hurt the farmers’ argument that food production would be threatened if they failed to get even more financial support than what they’ve had for years.
Several farmers raising livestock have also been charged with animal abuse and filthy conditions recently, embarrassing the farmers’ organizations and cooperatives that promote Norwegian meat and other locally grown products as among the purest in the world. The farmers’ main political party, the Center Party, has also suffered a rash of bad publicity in recent months and may not have been in the best negotiating position.
“I’m glad that we now have an agreement that follows up the (government’s) priorities in the state budget,” said Agriculture Minister Jon Georg Dale of the Progress Party. “That will strengthen Norwegian food production.”
Dale also had initially offered much more financial support than in future years, even though it was just over half the farmer’s demands, and it went along with farmers’ own measures to stem over-production of milk, pork, lamb and poultry. The state further agreed to new measures to strengthen revenues for the smallest farms, including reductions in support to farmers with more than 50 animals. That means farmers will profit from keeping livestock numbers small and decentralized.
Lars Petter Bartnes, leader of Norges Bondelag, wasn’t entirely satisfied. “Unfortunately we have not managed to secure pay raises for farmers that are in line with other groups in terms of actual kroner,” he said. “That wasn’t possible because of weak market opportunities and a low offer from the state.”
Farmers will, however, get average pay hikes of 3.5 percent, higher than most other groups have received.