PARIS • Thousands of farmers are heading towards Brussels, Belgium, before a meeting of European ministers set to discuss plunging prices for milk, meat, fruit and vegetables.
About 4,000 farmers will gather, along with hundreds of tractors, tomorrow as ministers debate potential agriculture support measures, said Mr Pekka Pesonen, secretary-general of Brussels-based farm lobby Copa-Cogeca. A Russian ban on many European Union (EU) food exports, slowing demand from China and oversupply of milk and pork products mean many farmers are losing money and may go out of business, he said.
European milk prices have fallen about 20 per cent in the past year, industry data show, sparking farmer protests this summer from Britain to Lithuania. French farmers blockaded parts of Paris last Thursday, and trading on the country's benchmark pig market in Brittany was disrupted last month when buyers and sellers could not agree on prices.
"We need European institutions to come up with a plan to immediately alleviate the problems that we face," Mr Pesonen said by phone on Friday. "This is about true concerns that farmers are having about their economic survival."
Ministers may discuss bringing forward the timeframe that farmers receive direct payments from the EU, with support cheques potentially paid out this autumn instead of in December, according to documents released by the European Council before the meeting this week. Prices paid for dairy products for EU stockpiles also could be raised and new measures for promoting European food products may be discussed.
Extra EU support for dairy farmers probably will not be enough to stem falling prices as the world is oversupplied, said Mr Robbie Turner, head of European markets at Rice Dairy International, a brokerage with offices in Chicago and London. Global production of milk, cheese and butter are all expected to climb to records this year, according to the United States Department of Agriculture.
"There's a huge amount of pressure at the moment and it's been very noisy," Mr Turner said in an interview last Wednesday in London. "But the reality is, this is a long-term problem that a short-term fix won't address. The fundamentals at the moment are that there is more milk supply than there is demand."
France offered its farmers additional financial help last Thursday, including tax rebates and investment aid, after they drove 1,500 tractors onto the streets of Paris.
Prime Minister Manuel Valls, who highlighted pork, beef and milk producers as sectors facing the most severe crises, said last Thursday the government's priority was to lift farmgate prices.
The plan included a rise in government support for investment, co-funded by the EU and French regions, to bring it to €3 billion (S$4.7 billion) over three years.
The government said it would also freeze the adoption of new, mostly environmental standards, allow livestock farmers to postpone all debt repayments due this year, and reduce their tax bills.