Producers riot in Brussels over milk prices

European milk producers clashed with riot police in Brussels on Monday, as hundreds gathered outside the EU Council building to vent their anger at lower prices and falling incomes.

According to the AFP wire service, around 900 farmers from 10 different member states joined the protest, blocking the city’s streets with tractors and breaking through police barricades as EU farm ministers met to discuss the market situation.

Across Europe, similar protests flared up. In Berlin, a claimed 6000 dairy farmers with 700 tractors brought chaos to the streets of the German capital.

And an estimated 12,000 French dairy farmers mounted blockades at 81 processing sites across the country.

According to the French national federation of milk producers (FNPL) milk prices are now 30% down on year-ago levels at just 21 cents/litre, while prices in the supermarkets remain unchanged.

European farmers’ body COPA added its call for an “urgent response” from EU agriculture ministers.

“Every second farm in Europe is involved in dairy production is some way, 60% of them in less-favoured areas,” said COPA president Padraig Walshe. “If nothing is done to help them, the rural economy will be depressed for a long time.”

COPA therefore called for an extension of intervention buying, increased export refunds, aid for the use of skimmed milk powder in animal feed and EU measures to promote consumption.

It also suggested paying dairy farmers their single farm payments in August rather than December.

Addressing the EU farm council on Monday, EU agriculture minister Mariann Fischer Boel confirmed she had indeed instructed her officials to allow up to 70% advance payment of the 2009 SFP to all farmers in the EU from 16 October.

She also favoured extending the deadline for both intervention purchasing and private storage aid for butter beyond the normal August cut-off, though this would require a change in the regulations.

But she rejected calls for increased export refunds, which would damage world markets, and aid for SMP in animal feed, which would not be effective.

Mrs Fischer Boel also rejected calls for a re-think on the expansion of milk quotas each year, prior to their abolition, as spelt out in last year’s CAP health check.

Despite the 2.5% increase in quotas since April 2008, EU milk production had fallen by 0.5%, she said, suggesting it was not the increase in quotas that had led to the drop in milk prices.

* For a Farmers Weekly view of the milk price crisi, see Phil Clarke’s Business Blogphil