Manure and messaging strategies emerge amidst milk protests

By Neil Merrett

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags European union European commission

The agricultural minister of Belgium has expressed similar price concerns shown by some French farmers this week in calling for further reassessment by the European Commission of the use of support measures available to milk producers.

Press reports yesterday suggested that French farmers were turning to manure as a weapon to express outrage at EU policy on liberalising milk markets, claiming the strategy has led to a collapse in prices for certain dairy goods.

Quota strategy

The Commission itself said back in January, that despite temporarily reinstating some protection measures like export refunds and intervention schemes to ensure farmer payouts, it remains committed to deregulating the market after raising production quotas.

According to European Commission in a statement released last November, a one per cent increase per year in milk quotas for each member state will generate a ‘soft landing’ as the quota system is phased out.

Europe’s commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development Mariann Fischer Boel said at the time that the measures, implemented as part of the CAP Health Check, would help free producers to “follow market signals”.

Manure argument

However, rather then join some French farmer protests in dumping manure at select government offices across the country, Belgium’s Benoît Lutgen is instead opting to call directly on the Commission to reduce recent rises in production quotas.

In a letter addressed to his European counterparts, agriculture minister Lutgen says that after deciding at the last meeting of the Council of Agriculture and Fisheries on a waiting period of two months to assess potential impacts of the Commission’s policy, changes may be required.

“In spite of the measures, it must be stated that the milk prices have not picked up,”​ he writes. “There are no signs from the market of short-term or medium-term improvement in prospects. If prices stay at the same level, large numbers of producers will abandon dairy farming – unless we take steps.”

In terms of potential steps to boost milk and cheese pricing, Lutgen calls on a supply reduction that would effectively repeal the Commission’s decision taken last year to increase production quotas.

The minister claims that calls made in March to block further quota increases will not be enough in the current market and a policy reversal may be required.

“This measure is no longer enough to counter the falling trend in milk prices,”​ states Lutgen, “Only a general decrease of the European quota by one to two per cent can reduce supply and send out a clear signal to the market.”

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