Massive Tractor Protests Across Europe Warn of Existential Threat to Farms

Kees Torn/Flickr/CC BY

A year into the Yellow Vest protest movement, farmers are now taking to the streets in massive tractor protests in the Netherlands, Germany, Ireland and France.

Last week saw more than a thousand tractors blocking the Ring Road and major arteries into Paris. It followed on the heals of two French tractor protests the previous month, and was timed with similar massive demonstrations in Ireland (the third one in just over a year), Germany (the second this Fall) and the Netherlands (the third this Fall).

[Click on the twitter link above to see the video of the tractors in Germany at night for full effect.]

Tractor protests are by no means new to Europe. In the last decade alone, prior demonstrations happened in France in 2010, 2014, 2015 and 2018; in Italy in Jan. 2019 (with tractors joining “Orange Vest” protesters); in Norway in 2017; in Finland in 2016; in Sweden in 2015; and in Poland in 2015. The tractor was even declared a symbol of Spain’s Catalonia Independence movement, taking part in protests there in 2017.

In some cases the protests were foreshadowed by tractor demonstrations at the seat of the European Union in Brussels — in July 2019 and Jan. 2018 (both over concerns about the South American “Mercasur” Free Trade Agreement’s feared impact to the local cattle industry) and in 2015 (over the impact to European farmers of EU sanctions against Russia which resulted in the devastating loss of a major market for their products).

Even before last week’s rural uprising, a Washington Post article titled “The Problem with Tractor Protests” sought to disuade farmers from plowing the urban streets in protest. It detailed how American farmers took their tractors to Washington, D.C. in March 1978 and February 1979, snarling traffic and generating negative media coverage

“The farmers received the national attention they desired —
but much of it came in the form of negative press. …In the weeks that followed,
rather than being honored for their role feeding and sustaining the country,
farmers were framed as being untrustworthy ‘rednecks.’
— Washington Post

The lesson, according to the Post: “The tractors ultimately proved to be precarious tools of protest because they were disruptive and, as a result, fueled rural stereotypes. Traditional lobbying efforts, including proposed solutions backed by scientific evidence, promoted a more positive image of farm life.”

Does anyone really suppose that traditional lobbying efforts have not already been tried by European farmers, to no avail? Does anyone believe they enjoy leaving their rural homes and their animals to sit in their cabs for hours, during winter, in some cases overnight? Would they really risk angering their propective urban customers if they saw another way to communicate their desperation?

Indeed, the problem with not staging a tractor protest is that the plight of farmers will stay out of sight, and therefore out of mind. Instead, the images being circulated in the news and under the following hashtags on Twitter cannot be ignored:

As in 1970s America, much of the media coverage is again painting farmers as villians, hammering on the traffic impacts of these protests, and portraying them as greedy with demands for higher payments, and unstrustworthy polluters who oppose environmental regulations. The Netherlands protests were touched off by a May court ruling that Dutch farmers had exceeded the EU’s limits on nitrogen emissions and were therefore particularly to blame for climate change. One political party proposed a 50% reduction in the country’s livestock. Builders were also implicated, resulting in a halt of 18,000 construction projects, worth billions of Euros, according to Reuters, and an untold number of jobs.

In France, the rallying cry was against “agri-bashing,” with farmers sick of being scapegoated for problems. A series of attacks by militant vegans against butcher shops were cited by Reuters, as well as the pro-vegan media coverage that might have fueled those attacks, and a planned phase out of the pesticide glyphosate by 2021 — ahead of the EU’s schedule — was reportedly also a concern. But Reuters does not capture the full picture —  a suicide rate among farmers reaching two a day — belies a bigger crisis.

At least one local reporter for France Inter understood their plea, writing:

“Twenty years ago, some very Parisian and well-regarded members of the
economic elite, totally irresponsible, dreamed of a France without factories. We have almost arrived there, deindustrialization has cost us dearly, there are almost
no more workers. Be careful not to dream and prepare a France without farmers.” [emphais in original]
— “Get out of agribashing abuse!

At the risk of receiving negative coverage by the ever-influential media, thanks to these farmers’ tractors, millions of people are now facing the very real question of whether government policies, including climate change agreements, foreign policy decisions and trade deals are creating an existential crisis for farming. And if so, is the death of small independent farms not bad for the environment? Is it not bad for human freedom?

Free trade may be all well and good when all parties are playing by the same rules, but when it is built on the foundation of heavily regulated domestic industries, it spells the death knell of those industries. The bittersweet reality is that opening new markets is easier than peeling back the layers of bureaucracy that inflate the cost of local production. Meanwhile the loss of local infrastructure puts the entire country’s welfare in jeopardy.

Will environmentalists who so recently cheered the importance of local food really believe in the environmental superiority of cheaper meat shipped across the Atlantic from South America, where they have no say in the environmental regulations, much less whether more of the carbon-sinking Amazon is cleared for cattle? For surely all of Europe will not go vegan. There is such a thing as human nature, which entails a hunger for real protein in the diet.

Just so, there is a longing within human nature for freedom, and the desire for property ownership is hard-wired within us, no matter where we live. Even young, childless urbanites must secretly harbor a wish to some day obtain a piece of land to call home and gain some control of their surroundings. How would the urbanite psyche fare if that possibility were snuffed out?

Even as farmers raise the alarm of their own existential crisis, new studies keep coming out to challenge the so-called “settled science” of climate alarmism, like a just-released Oxford University report that suggests UK agriculture emissions were overstated by 80 percent, or a July 2019 Finnish study that found no evidence of man-made climate change.

Americans can take this firm warning from Europeans who literally bet their countrymen’s farms on climate hysteria: No Farms, No Food, No Future.


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