Brussels farmer protests

Source: NFU

Thousands of farmers descended on Brussels today to protest against falling farmgate prices and draw attention to the cashflow crisis currently facing the EU agriculture sector.

The protests were designed to coincide with an extraordinary meeting of European agriculture ministers in the Belgian capital, and come on the back of a turbulent summer, which has seen farmers take to the streets (and supermarket aisles) in many countries across the Continent.

Among them were many British farmers – indeed, representatives of all the major UK farming unions were there.

Like their European counterparts, they are angry at a slump in the farmgate price for beef, pork, lamb and milk, and are demanding more support from national governments and the EU.

The situation is particularly grim for dairy farmers, with the Royal Association of British Dairy Farmers claiming today that almost half of dairy farmers in the UK want to quit as a result of the current crisis.

British dairy farmers have scored some high-profile concessions from retailers and protesters this summer – including the launch of Milk for Farmers, the new premium dairy brand from Morrisons that directly supports farmers – but clearly more will need to be done.

However, public support may prove more difficult to come by as we head into autumn. Today’s protests started as a peaceful march but soon got lively, and by this afternoon some European protesters had set fire to barricades and clashed violently with riot police.

It’s clear farmers are desperate for help, and the European Commission has already responded by announcing a “comprehensive package of measures” worth €500m.

But farmers are not the only ones desperate for public support – and they are not the only ones forced to take to the streets of Europe at the moment. No matter how justified their calls for help, farmers will need to be mindful that demanding more public money be spent on them while the Continent is in the throes of a refugee crisis could risk a public backlash.