French young farmers protest over food prices

French young farmers have dumped piles of hay outside the French presidential palace in protest at plunging food prices and to demand more help from the government.

The group of about 100 protesters bundled two bales out of a van as it drove past the Elyseé palace in a pre-dawn raid. The hay scattered across the road before police reinforcements arrived.

Police fired tear gas to disperse the group, who had unfurled a banner that read “angry farmers” and gathered outside President Nicolas Sarkozy‘s office.

Damien Gressin, head of France’s Young Farmers’ Association, said some of the demonstrators were arrested.

Farmers in the country claim they are facing the worst crisis in three decades thanks to tumbling food prices.

Average farm revenues fell 34% in 2009, the French Agriculture Ministry said this week, with crop farmers’ slumping by almost half.

The falls – the worst in three decades – were due to a rise in the cost of fertiliser and a drop in the price of cereals from 2008 levels.

In October, French president Nicolas Sarkozy vowed to provide cash-strapped farmers with £890 million in bank loans along with other government aid.

But farmers are unhappy with President Sarkozy’s promises and criticised deregulation of the European agricultural markets.

The Young Farmers’ Association said in a statement: “Nicolas Sarkozy is not properly defending agriculture and is letting the United States and India pursue a strategy of economic power.”

In an interview on France Inter radio, French agriculture minister Bruno Le Maire said he understood the farmers’ anguish.

“When you wake up every day, even if you work 12 to 14 hours and know you are going to lose money at the end of the day, there is indeed something to be upset about,” Mr Le Maire said.

He called for measures to stabilise prices but did not say what those might be.

In October, Mr Le Maire recommended that Sarkozy reduce the tax burden on farmers this year.

Grain farmers, milk farmers and sheep farmers have also held protests in Paris this year.