22 June 2009

Milking is all they know...

Today the newly elected European Parliament debates agricultural matters in Strasbourg. And as there are always some of Europe's farmers protesting against something, there is of course a demonstration taking place outside the parliament building.

By now EU politicians are used to that. Europe's farmers have long learned to begin to complain before they begin to suffer. (I should know, as one of my grandfathers was co-organiser of the very first demonstration of farmers that brought hundreds of tractors into the centre of Brussels and parked them in protest outside the EU Commission building - many years ago.)

Currently the problem seems to be that dairy farmers are not getting paid enough money for their milk. Well, as farming is a business, they should simply demand more and refuse to sell below their production price. The supermarkets can well afford to pay a decent price for milk.

But perhaps we are producing too much milk as it is. One of the farmers interviewed for a radio programme today said that "milking cows is all I know". Maybe that is the problem. Inflexibility does not help anyone, and the millions of other Europeans who have lost their jobs recently as a result of the recession are certainly asked to be flexible and to adjust themselves to the needs of the market.

Is it not fair to expect the same from Europe's farmers? Why should they be treated always a bit better than the rest? And why should all of us have to pay good money to subsidise farmers who are no longer competitive (or whose products are no longer economically viable)?
With the abolition of milk quotas, which has already been decided, there is a chance of a totally new and re-structured Agriculture in Europe. The question is if our farmers will step up to the plate and take this chance as a positive challenge, or if they will keep sitting on their tractors and grumble until the cows come home and the EU's cheques are in the post.

Aside from the main business in Strasbourg there was a little incident today that made me smile. (Sorry, farmers, I just couldn't help it...)
About 100 Irish dairy farmers had hired two buses and were on their way to Strasbourg, where they wanted to join the demonstration against further cuts in the agricultural budget. But - as it happens - the Irish farmers never arrived at their destination.

Their buses were stopped on a French motorway. Not by Police or anxious EU officials, keen to keep them away. No, Eire's eager dairy farmers were caught in a trap of their own protest. Their buses were just two of the many hundreds - perhaps thousands - of vehicles French farmers brought to a lengthy standstill when they decided to go to a main motorway and block it, as an act of protest against low farming income.

A brain or two, plus a couple of mobile phones, could have avoided that or solved the problem. But then again, what can one expect from people who state that "milking is all I know"...

The Emerald Islander

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