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Farmers in the European Union protest flooded markets, unfair green policy, and forced fallow.

Pam Caraway, Farm Futures executive editor

March 4, 2024

3 Min Read
Banner on tractor during EU farmer protest
PROTESTS: A slogan which reads "Hunger will be our fate" is displayed on a tractor as farmers block the entrance of a Leclerc supermarket in Le Mans, northwestern France, earlier this year. Fearing financial ruin, farmers across Europe are protesting pay, taxes and environmental regulations. Which financial straw threatens to break U.S. farmers?GUILLAUME SOUVANT/Getty Images

Other than following global crop markets, I tuned out of ag news from Europe a few years ago.

I’m tired of hearing about the restrictions placed on crop production, driven by environmental activists and GMO opponents — and how European Union leaders caved to the emotional rhetoric.

But last year when EU farmers began dumping manure and lighting it on fire in various cities, I was hooked. 

Farmers in France, Germany, Poland and the Netherlands see taxes, farm production regulations, market interference and unfair green policy as boots on their financial necks.

Ultimately, decreasing the subsidy on off-road diesel — effectively increasing the tax farmers pay to fuel production — became the match lighting the flame of protest.

As a result, France’s prime minister in January agreed:

  • to oppose the Mercosur free-trade deal that could flood France with cheaper Latin American meat and produce (Sound familiar to any U.S. farmers?)

  • to push for an easing of EU rules forcing some farmland to stay fallow (Maybe they could pay attention to U.S. history on that failed policy?)

But the prime minister didn’t go far enough to satisfy farmers, who worry government efforts to lower food prices will also lower the prices they receive for production. (Do those officials in the forced fallow camp understand how supply and demand works?)

Related:Europe to cut red tape for farmers following protests

Given the subsidy levels in many of those countries, the economic pain they’re voicing is a surprise. Still, my heart hurts for them.

‘On est sur la paille’

In a photo from France, I saw the phrase “On est sur la paille” painted on
a tractor blade. Translated to “We are on the straw,” or financially ruined, the saying hit me hard and deep. It makes me wonder what’s to come there and when it will hit here at home.

Two questions nag at me as we watch these events unfold:

  • Are EU farmers being regulated to economic death?

  • Are we facing a similar future?

We Americans have seen for years how EU farm policy has been pushed by emotionally driven environmental activists and GMO opponents. That’s what farmers there say must change for them to survive financially. They’ve doggedly moved against a derecho of anti-science rhetoric but haven’t found success in blocking laws that threaten their livelihoods.

In our country, we often seem to fall into the same trap.

Some of those environmental laws are beneficial for all. Some overreach. Top of mind for me regarding the latter is
the ongoing battle to define the Waters of the U.S., as well as EPA’s continual reevaluation of pesticides, most especially herbicides.

We’re forced to invest in software to document our environmental sustainability efforts, to prove we’re doing right by land that’s foundational to the success of our family farms.

Some of the environmental demands end up as line items on our business budgets, but offer absolutely no return on investment. It becomes a “cost of doing business,” and we expect more of that. Which one will be the financial straw that topples your balance sheet?

Perhaps this is what fired up the manure spreader in the EU. Is what’s happening now in Europe a harbinger of things to come here?

This is the crisis we share with farmers around the world. Until leadership in this nation and other agricultural bulwark countries makes the connection between environmental and economic sustainability, our ability to feed ourselves is compromised.

Will these pungent protests help grow better policy?

Read more about:

European Union

About the Author(s)

Pam Caraway

Farm Futures executive editor

Pam Caraway became executive editor of Farm Futures in 2024. She has amassed a career in ag communications, including leadership roles in editorial, marketing and public relations. No stranger to the Farm Progress editorial team, she has served as editor of former publications Florida Farmer and Southern Farmer, and as a senior staff writer at Delta Farm Press.

She started her writing career at Northwest Florida Daily News in Fort Walton Beach. She also worked on agrochemical accounts at agencies Bader Rutter and Rhea + Kaiser.

Caraway says working as an ag communications professional is the closest she can get to farming – and still earn a paycheck. She’s been rewarded for that passion and drive with multiple writing and marketing awards, most notably: master writer from the Agricultural Communicators Network, a Plant Pathology Journalism Award from the American Phytopathological Society, and the Reuben Brigham Award from the Association for Communication Excellence.

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