Farmers appeal to Solberg for help

Bookmark and Share

Apparently not satisfied with the public assistance already offered by Norway’s agriculture minister, the country’s two largest farming organizations have now “invited” Prime Minister Erna Solberg to visit farms stricken by the recent drought. They want her to see their “crisis” first-hand herself.

The farming organizations distributed this photo on Wednesday of a parched field where grass for livestock feed stopped growing weeks ago because of the drought. Few Norwegian farmers have installed irrigation or watering systems, relying instead on rainfall. PHOTO: Bondelaget

“Many of our members are now in despair,” said Lars Petter Bartnes, leader of Norges Bondelag, which represents medium- to large-scale farmers. “Those with livestock may have to slaughter their animals because they don’t have enough feed for them. Producers of grain, berries, fruit and vegetables are experiencing major losses. One of the country’s biggest businesses is in deep crisis. We invite the country’s top leader to see this with her own eyes.”

Solberg’s agriculture minister Jon Georg Dale has already met at least twice with Bartnes and the leader of the small farmers’ lobbying group Norsk Bonde- og Småbrukarlag, and offered special relief. At a meeting just last week, he rolled out 11 more measures and has offered several means of acquiring more feed for livestock, including elimination of tariffs on imports from abroad.

Not all farmers are in crisis
Dale has also met with farmers who were better prepared to tackle the drought and even thrive in the unusually warm and dry weather. Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) has also reporting on one farm family near Kristiansand that’s having a bumper crop of corn on the cob this year, because it has flourished in the heat.

The two major farming organizations paint a much darker picture, however, and claim their members are suffering during the historically warm and dry summer. They call the situation for farmers “critical” and want Solberg to visit a farm that’s badly affected, and “discuss the situation” for the farming business.

“We farmers try as hard as we can to help each other and the spirit of assistance is impressive,” claimed Merete Furuberg, leader of the smaller farmers’ organization. “Among other things, feed is being sent from the north to the south, and we see that the banks and suppliers want to help. But in order to avoid long-lasting consequences on food production from the crisis, an extraordinary economic contribution from the government is needed.”

Some farmers exploiting the crisis
Not everyone agrees. Some argue that farmers need to accept more of the risk just like other businesses do, without automatically expecting a taxpayer bailout. NRK also reported Wednesday evening that some farmers are demanding prices of as much as NOK 500 for a ball of feed, up from the normal NOK 300. Farmers Knut Jarle Grandetrø and Arnt Olav Halseth in Trøndelag criticized other farmers who are exploiting the feed shortage by selling overpriced feed to colleagues who are suffering.

Bartnes had to agree. “I can see in here in Trøndelag that many have poor fields right now, but in the bigger picture it is possible to move a lot of feed from Trøndelag to Østlandet (Southeastern Norway, where the drought is worst),” Bartnes told NRK.

Furuberg and the opposition Center Party, in which farmers make up their largest constituents, have nonetheless been asking for outright grants to cover expected financial losses, compensation for the higher cost of feed and freezing meat, more restrictions on meat imports and other measures that are bound to affect consumers. The early slaughter of animals, the farmers fear, will flood the market with more meat than there is demand. They don’t want Norway’s high meat prices to fall, however, so their solution is to cut off imports, to force Norwegians to buy only Norwegian meat.

In their “invitation” to the prime minister, the farming organizations are asking Solberg to “find time” for a meeting as quickly as possible. “With 63,000 members, around 550 local chapters, 18 county chapters, good political contacts and high professional competence we are a strong organization,” wrote Norges Bondelag in a press release Wednesday afternoon. Solberg will clearly feel pressured to meet them, although she can argue that such meetings are the responsibility of the agriculture minister, who already has offered aid.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund