ANALYSIS – Disappointment over low farmgate prices is being felt across Europe but French farmers are expressing their anger the most vehemently.
French roads, rail lines and supermarket car parks have been blockaded with tractor and trailer convoys, heaps of waste and piles of manure by French farmers in protest over low prices.
They have drawn attention to a pork, beef and dairy price crisis in a bid to force the government to alleviate pressure on farms and address retailers who they say pay too little for produce.
The message has got through to officials, who last week confirmed a “contingency plan”.
French agriculture minister, Stefan Le Foll, said a €23 million relief package had been activated.
He said the government “will do everything to help producers through this difficult period”, which has landed ten per cent of farmers in financial difficulty.
Government crisis meetings held this week have promised to lean on food processors and distributors to “influence prices”.
Protests have targeted major artery roads and tourist hot spots across western France. Media reports show the Caen ferry port “paralyzed” by angry farmers and tourist access to Saint-Malo and Le Mont Saint-Michel severed.
Europe’s farming leaders blame powerful retailers, almost a year of Russian trade sanctions and a global dairy downturn for causing widespread farm bankruptcy and closure.
Cattle and pig farms are in “economic disarray” and suffering “human distress”, a French Farmers Union said last week, calling for government help with farm borrowing.
Russian Ban “Unjustified”
Formerly Europe’s number one pork market, losing Russia, first to African Swine Fever embargoes and then as a result of diplomatic tensions over Ukraine, has “hit hard” EU pig producers.
This is according to European farmers union, Copa-Cogeca, which sees Russian restrictions as unfair.
Russia’s ban has halved Europe’s agri-food exports earnings, the organisation said – a reduction of €5.5 billion.
Speaking last week, Cogeca president Christian Pees said it was “crucial to find alternative markets” and target areas worst hit by the ban.
He said: “In particular, we urge the EU to intensify negotiations with Russia to get the SPS restrictions imposed on EU pig meat exports in early 2014 lifted.
“This would enable exports to Russia to resume for some products like edible offal and bacon which were not included in the global list of banned products resulting from the political dispute between the EU and Russia.”
Calls have been made to assist Europe's dairy farmers with cash flow problems. Copa-cogeca welcomed the EU Commission’s decision to extend EU public intervention and private storage measures but said prices are still too low in many countries.
Promoting the hashtag #dairyaction, Copa-Cogeca Secretary, Pekka Pesonen, said an EU milk intervention price must account for production costs.
“We also urge the Commission to advance the direct payments before the 1 December and to ensure that the 2014/2015 superlevy is returned to the dairy sector to help dairy farmers with their cash flow problems,” he added.