EU Farmer/Tractor Protestors Get What They Want

By Will Verboven Contributing Editor

The past months have seen farmer/tractor protests across many European Union (EU) countries such as the Netherlands, France, Germany, Spain and Italy. Those valiant farmers are taking to the streets by the tens of thousands and are achieving some success. They are protesting overregulation by an EU super bureaucracy that is out of touch and disconnected from the realities of agricultural production, absurd climate change policies that increase production costs, EU government green extremism and generally low commodity prices.

I expect many Canadian and American farmers and ranchers would find most of those European ag issues somewhat familiar, as both of our federal governments can be rightfully accused of aiding and abetting such anti-agriculture activities and perspectives over here. However, as yet, long-suffering North American agriculture folks have not yet reacted to those issues in the same fashion as their counterparts in Europe. One wonders how low our progressive federal governments have to stoop before our ag sector takes to the streets. It has happened before in both our countries, but it was a long time ago.

Those long in the tooth might recall the 1979 march on Washington, D.C., by thousands of farmers and their tractors, spearheaded by the American Agriculture Movement. Protestors came from as far away as Texas and Colorado. It was the culmination of a few years of farmer protests called tractorades or rallies carried out in various state capitals. Such tractorade protests seemed to peter out after the Washington event and did not appear to have achieved much success. The protests back then seemed to concern low commodity prices, very high interest rates (21 percent) and a demand for price/cost parity.

There have been other ag-producer protests since then, but they have been limited. It should be noted that since 1979, the U.S. farm population has decreased from 6.1 million to 1.8 million today. Perhaps there are not enough potential protestors left in the United States; but it’s another story in Europe. Over there, 60 year’s worth of very generous EU farmer-subsidy policies have kept millions of small, marginal farmers in business. That’s come back to haunt the EU as there is now a ready supply of many thousands of angry farmers and their tractors to clog the roadways around many EU capitals.

How far do North American farmers need to be provoked to push back against aghostile governments? 


Canada has not had any major farmer/tractor protests in the past 30 years. The largest was in 1993, when about 30,000 dairy farmers and their allies demonstrated in front of the parliament buildings in Ottawa, Ontario. They were gathered there to protest the possible reduction/elimination of their supply management milk marketing program. Supply management is a uniqely Canadian program that gives marketing and price control to dairy, egg and poultry producers. That program is a bone of contention in the Canada/USA free trade agreement but is the envy of American milk, egg and poultry producers. The program was never in danger and remains firmly entrenched in the Canadian ag industry. The continuation of that program has kept about 20,000 farmers in eastern Canada fat and happy and not prone to protesting.

Since 1993, the Canadian farm population has decreased from 300,000 to 180,000, thinly spread out primarily within 200 miles of the 3,200-mile Canada/U.S. border. All of that reduces the pool of possible farmer protestors in Canada. Strangely, there have been modest farmer demonstrations in various places in Canada, but they were in support of farmer strikes in India and the Netherlands – go figure.

Up here in the Great White North, our progressive Liberal government has been inflicting new green extremist policies on various parts of the ag industry. At this time, they are aspirational, but one expects many of them to become mandatory after the next election up here. If the present Liberal government is reelected, it will get worse, which may well provoke farmers and ranchers up here to engage in more aggressive protest demonstrations. However, if present voter polling holds, there is real hope that the present government up here will be replaced by the Conservative Party of Canada. That party is much more sympathetic to the production realities of Canadian agriculture and will hopefully dismantle the inane green policies imposed by the present progressive government.

It’s not my privilege to comment on American politics. Still, from the outside, it would seem that farmers and ranchers in the United States may also be looking forward to a change in government for many of the same reasons the Canadian ag sector is looking for a change in government up here.

From an ag politics perspective, one looks at the success of the EU farmer tractor protests with some envy. How different would our federal governments treat the ag sector if they were as organized and aggressive as protesting farmers in France? The EU and French governments have backtracked and suspended many of their extremist green policies and inane regulatory rules. To be fair, they also guaranteed and increased their ag subsidy programs, which probably helped most in getting EU farmers off the streets. How far do North American farmers need to be provoked to push back against ag-hostile governments? Upcoming elections will decide.