Prices for their produce are down, taxes and environmental requirements are up, and farmers have had enough. They are now demanding a return to EU regulation of the markets to help them balance the books.
Some 5,000 grain farmers from across France marched in Paris Tuesday to protest against plummeting revenues and demand a return to tighter EU regulation of their markets.
The tractors concentrated around Nation in the east of the capital, before heading west towards Bastille, then north to République. All major entry points into Paris are expected to experience significant traffic delays throughout the day.
Cereal producers (as well as sunflower and rape growers) are leading the demonstration, angry that volatile markets have left them substantially out of pocket in a “black year” for their industry.
Last year, average income for cereal farmers in France fell by 51% (while cereal prices are down by almost a quarter) according to Eric Thirouin, secretary general of the FRSEA farmers’ union for the region around Paris.
“Yet the weather has been good these last two years and harvests have been plentiful,” he told FRANCE 24.
Thirouin explained that environmental measures laid down by the French government were too costly and that taxes were making farmers uncompetitive and vulnerable on volatile international markets.
He added: “We need to breathe new life into the markets. We need to make sure that our silos are not still full when it comes to harvest time.”
The farmers’ frustration is directed also at the European Union, which five years ago reduced its role in administering the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and halted market regulation.
This has particularly affected France, where revenues across the entire farming sector fell by a third in 2009, after having already dropped by 20% in 2008.
“Markets go up and down,” says Thirouin. “Prices can’t yo-yo in supermarkets so it’s the farmers who bear the brunt. For example, a quintal (100kg) of barley usually sells for 130 euros. Three years ago it went up to 200, this year it is down to 90. The result is we are all living on credit.
“In my region there are 3,000 farmers. Imagine as a comparison a big industry like car manufacturing, having 3,000 employees in this region, suffering a 40-million-euro deficit, and where none of the employees have been paid in a year.
“We have to do something spectacular like this to get the authorities to pay us attention.”