Farmers demand more crisis help

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The state agriculture ministry has rolled out 11 new measures to further help farmers tackle Norway’s worst drought in more than 50 years. Farmers’ lobbyists didn’t appear particularly grateful or satisfied, however, and some were already demanding more crisis aid and state protection from looming financial losses on Tuesday.

Cattle all over Southern Norway continue to face a shortage of feed both now and in the winter ahead. PHOTO: newsinenglish.no

“It’s not money that there’s first and foremost a lack of now, it’s feed for the animals,” Agriculture Minister Jon Georg Dale, a farmer himself from the conservative Progress Party, pointed out during the meeting late Monday afternoon with Norway’s two largest farming organizations, Norges Bondelag and Norsk Bonde- og Småbrukarlag.

Dale is most concerned with acquiring enough feed for Norwegian livestock, with most of the new measures aimed at easing and streamlining the purchase and transport of feed within Norway and import of feed from abroad. The 11 measures presented on Monday, and accepted by the farmers’ groups, come in addition to a crisis package for farmers introduced earlier this month.

Farmers’ representatives, and not least the Center Party that gets most of its support from farmers, seem just as concerned about covering potential financial losses from the hot weather and lack of rain that has persisted since May. They’re demanding state compensation for lost crop income and the higher costs of acquiring cattle feed, for example, from afar.

Agriculture Minister Jon Georg Dale (center) presented 11 more measures in a new state crisis package to aid farmers. While Lars Petter Bartnes of Norges Bondelag (right) called the measures “constructive,” Ann Merete Furuberg of Småbrukarlaget was already demanding that the state and consumers cover farmers’ looming losses. PHOTO: LMD

Since some farmers have already started slaughtering animals, because of a lack of feed, demands are also going out to halt imports of meat. Center Party officials and some farmers argue that since meat lockers are already filling up in Norway, there will be a surplus on the market. They want to keep prices high, however, and thus restrict imports, basically forcing Norwegians to eat up the Norwegian meat before any foreign meat is allowed in, even though it may be of higher quality.

The farming advocates also want compensation for the costs of freezing meat slaughtered early, and they want the state to pay for even more national promotion campaigns to get Norwegians to eat more meat. “It shouldn’t be up to the farming organizations alone,” argued Arne Nævra. agriculture policy spokesman for the Center Party, in newspaper Dagsavisen. “This is a national political issue.” He and other Center Party politicians have seized the opportunity to criticize the conservative government for offering, in their opinion, too little aid for farmers. Nævra claims Dale has been “too passive.”

Dale and his ministry have, however, directly addressed issues involving acquisition of livestock feed at a time when feed produced by Norwegian farmers has dried up in the fields or stopped growing because of the lack of rain. The farmers themselves have found themselves in an awkward position, with the need to import feed from abroad (including as far away as the US) forcing them to ease measures normally in place to protect Norwegian feed suppliers.

“Large amounts of rain are the only thing that will get growth going again,” Dale repeated on Monday, “but now we’ve already come so far into the growing season (which is short in Norway) that there will be crop losses regardless.”

He stressed that there’s no danger to food security in Norway, “but it is a very demanding situation for many farmers in large parts of the country.” Dale noted that he has had close and ongoing contact with the largest farming organization, Norges Bondelag, and that they have cooperated on what he called “practical” and urgent measures to address the most pressing need for feed. Bondelaget’s leader, Lars Petter Bartnes, confirmed that, calling Monday’s meeting with Dale “constructive” and resulting in “several measures” that offer relief for the farmers.

Ann Merete Furuberg of the Småbrukarlag, which represents smaller farms, was less enthusiastic, calling all the measures rolled out so far merely a “first step” in efforts to “counter the consequences of the extreme drought situation that’s hitting large portions of agriculture in Norway.”

Her organization issued a statement after the meeting stating that it’s now demanding more measures “of an economic character” to compensate farmers for any financial losses. She also warned of more demands “through the autumn.” She avoided, during an interview on state broadcaster NRK Tuesday morning, answering why farmers should expect and immediately receive state aid when most other industries and businesses have to live with the consequences of risk. It’s also been noted that farming is an industry subjected to and already protected from Norway’s often unpredictable weather and climate conditions that are now also subject to ongoing change.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund