Lessons to be learnt as EU farmers revolt

23 February 2024

In recent months French farmers have added to the chorus of protests across Europe in the fight against excessive European Union (EU) regulation.

According to France 24, farmers embarked on extensive tractor convoys, converging on Paris to besiege the capital. These farmers were expressing their frustration over excessive regulation, which they felt restricted their ability to farm effectively and earn a fair income for the essential work that they complete.

In a real wake-up call for politicians and policymakers farmers were quoted as saying, “We've come to defend French agriculture,” while placards read, “No food without farmers” and “The end of us would mean famine.”

The freshly minted French government, and new Prime Minister Gabriel Attal, has since coming to power revealed a raft of policy reforms in collaboration with unions. Policy changes aimed at making the food production sector more profitable and efficient. However, farmers felt that the changes did not go far enough.

Farmers across Europe, from France and Germany to Italy, Spain, and Switzerland, have stood at the forefront of opposition, boldly rebelling against a plethora of EU interventions.

The EU's changes included new environmental regulations, increased fuel taxes, free trade policy demands, and the inescapable fact wages are decreasing, and the cost of living is skyrocketing. Does this sound familiar?

As the Australian and Federal governments develop strategies to reduce environmental emissions and improve agriculture resilience, we as an industry must innovate and take personal responsibility for change. Much can be learned from poorly thought-through policies in other countries, for example, Sri Lanka, where a shift to ban the use of nitrogen fertilisers resulted in famine and increased inflation.

In the Netherlands, the plan to reduce the use of nitrogen fertilisers led to a similar outpouring of frustration, as disgruntled farmers caused a shift toward the political right and with the Freedom Party led by Geert Wilders surging to a surprise election win last year.

The Tasmanian agriculture sector contains some of the most innovative and passionate producers in the world. Last week the bringing together of a cross-section of the industry, to discuss proactively how we can address climate challenges and boost resilience can be seen as a positive step forward.

Only through innovation, the sharing of ideas and bottom-up support of the industry can we overcome this challenge and help grow the farm gate value of agricultural trade to $10B by 2050 in Tasmania.