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Friday, April 12, 2024

Farmers struck new deal with the state

Norwegian farmers opted against driving their tractors into Oslo and protesting in front of Parliament again this year. They accepted an offer of NOK 1.24 billion (USD 147 million) in state support just before the holiday weekend, much less than what they demanded but enough to fund pay hikes and innovation.

New Argiculture Minister Olaug Bollestad (left) came to terms with the farmers’ leaders Lars Petter Bartnes of Norges Bondelag and Kjersti Hoff of the Norsk Bonde og Småbrukarlag. PHOTO: Landbruks- og matdepartementet

“I’m glad we reached agreement with the farm sector,” new Agriculture Minister Olaug Bollestad of the Christian Democrats stated once the deal was signed. “The agreement provides good revenue possibilities for agriculture and bolsters an active farming sector all over the country.”

Commentators had claimed Bollestad couldn’t tolerate another breakdown in the annual negotiations between the government and the farmers. Her small party has long been farmer friendly and supports subsidy and the protectionism that’s pervasive in Norwegian agriculture. The state, at taxpayer expense, has long supported farmers with the aim of keeping rural areas populated and making up for small farms’ lack of economies of scale. Norwegian consumers, in addition to seeing their tax money plowed into farming, have also long been accustomed to prices for meat, milk and other agricultural products that are much higher than in most other countries.

More farmer friendly
The conservative government coalition that Bollestad’s party joined in January had taken a tougher line against the farmers, rejecting many of their subsidy and income demands and urging creation of larger farms and more sustainable operations. The Christian Democrats wrested the agriculture ministry away from the less-farmer-friendly Progress Party as part of government negotiations, though, so even though Bollestad still represented the farmers’ government opponent in this year’s negotiations she was also their best friend in a long time. It was important for her to strike a deal with none of the farmers’ antics like dumping milk or manure in the streets of the capital.

She got it, by boosting the state’s initial offer of around NOK 1 billion to a level that will allow pay raises of around 6 percent. That’s meant to address farmers’ complaints that their income growth has lagged behind that of other groups. State financial support hammered out with the farmers’ powerful lobbying organizations is also aimed at funding more investment in fruit, vegetable and grain production, especially in districts with small- and medium-sized farms.

Farmers will also get financial aid to fund needed measures meant to reduce their carbon emissions. The state is also urging the sector to improve innovation, use of renewable energy, “precision farming,” competence, research and development.

Bollestad called the funding “well-balanced” in terms of production and region, and she thinks it will help preserve small family farms. Lars Petter Bartnes of the organization representing large farms, Norges Bondelag, agreed that “we have negotiated better opportuinities to use agricultural land all over the country. If we’re to succeed in agriculture it’s important as a matter of principle that income differences between farmers and other groups are reduced.” Berglund



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