An emergency meeting of European Economic Community (E.E.C.) Farm Ministers has been called for Tuesday?
An emergency meeting of European Economic Community (E.E.C.) Farm Ministers has been called for Tuesday (3 September). The meeting in Brussels will discuss the problems facing E.E.C. farmers, who predict tumbling livestock prices and soaring production costs will cut their incomes by as much as 10 per cent this year.
In France, where 80 percent of the nation's farmers earn a meager living from small holdings of under 50 acres, their difficulty in making ends meet has provoked angry demonstrations. In July, the butchered their pigs and left them on motorways, threw liquid manure at official buildings and marched to their local representatives, demanding defence of the farmers' interests.
Improving the "efficiency" of French farming, which is dominated by ageing peasants, has been a central aim of the E.E.C.'s agricultural policies. In many parts of the country, peasants can still be seen ploughing with teams of horses or milking by hand, just as their fathers and grandfathers did before them. Such methods are a startling contrast to the energy-intensive production line approach to agriculture which has developed in the rest of Europe.
The care many farmers are prepared to lavish on their particular local specialties, a pate, wine, cheese or other delicacy, wold be considered ridiculously "uneconomic" by most of France's European neighbors. For such quality and the time it takes, the French farmers have demanded an income at least equal to their urban compatriots. The Common Agricultural Policy (C.A.P.) has tried to meet their demand, but it has had to cope with many problems.
Fragmentation of farm holdings is just one of these. It stems from the Code Napoleon, under which all legitimate heirs can inherit equally their father's land. All of them obviously do not wish to farm themselves, but if a relative takes over the land, they expect an annual cash payment. These "urban remittance men", as well as the farmers themselves, are voters no politician can afford to ignore.
Agricultural items at present account for about 20 per cent of France's total exports and the Government wants to increase this figure to offset the balance of payments deficit due to higher oil prices. With farmers' revenues down by an estimated GBP1,000 million ($2,500 million approx.) because of felling prices, the Government has got a long, uphill battles. First the "beef mountain" and the "butter mountain" will have to be disposed of, not to mention the rapidly growing "wine river". And there seems little hope that these can be cleared quickly.
Economic adversity is undoubtedly bringing about the "efficiency" in french agriculture the rest of Europe wants. In the past 20 years, French farmers have gone out of business at the rate of the very 10 minutes. The proportion of the population on the land has dwindled from 29 per cant to 13 per cent. And in really power areas, the farming family incomes average only GBP750 ($1,875 approx.) a year. The farmers have calculated that 60 percent of their number earn considerably less than the legal minimum of GBP1,100 ($2,750 approx.) a year.