French Farmers Blocked Roads, Burned Tires to Protest Low Prices

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French gendarmes stand on the RN 165 motorway facing protesters in a tractor bearing a sign reading 'Enough with Le Foll klore, help we are dying' (in reference to French Agriculture minister Stephane Le Foll) as farmers block the motorway access to Lorient, western France, on Jan. 25.

Photographer: Jean-Sebastien Evrard/AFP via Getty Images
  • Raw-milk prices in France slumped 17% in past two years
  • Livestock farm insolvencies at highest since at least 1998

French farmers protested low prices they say are putting them out of business by blocking roads in Brittany and preventing access to the port city of La Rochelle with tractors and burning tires.

More than 100 farmers, many of them livestock breeders, on Monday closed highway RN165 near the city of Lorient in the west, said Thierry Coue, head of the regional chapter of farm union FNSEA. In La Rochelle on the Atlantic coast, about 100 livestock farmers and grain producers blocked entry to the city from the east, said local FNSEA chairman Francois Avrard.

Insolvencies for French livestock farms last year rose to the highest since at least 1998, led by beef cattle and dairy producers, according to data analysis firm Altares. French raw-milk prices dropped 17 percent in the past two years, while beef prices that farmers say don’t cover costs fell 3.5 percent in the period, European Union data show. The declines came as rising milk output in Europe and New Zealand coincided with a slowdown in Chinese dairy demand, while growth in beef production has outpaced usage.

“Incomes are catastrophic, particularly in red meat and milk,” Coue said. “Today it’s no longer a crisis, this is social distress. People are at the end of their wits.”

While blockades in June prompted industry negotiations and an agreement by slaughterers to pay more for beef, prices for the meat have dropped since August. Livestock farmers in Brittany are going out of business, and protests will continue in the next few days, Coue said.

The blockade around La Rochelle, the nation’s second-biggest grain port, wasn’t scheduled to extend beyond Monday, Avrard said. Grain loading hadn’t been affected, according to silo operator Sica Atlantique.

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