From the fields to the streets: Frustration among farmers: “The protests won’t be over any time soon”


From the fields to the streets: Frustration among farmers: “The protests won’t be over any time soon”

Mr. Garbade, you have probably already been to one or two farmers' protests. What is the mood of the people? That depends on the protest. The farmers' associations are trying to keep the actions objective. But we also know that the mood is heated. We try to organize everything so that no one is shouted down.

Who are the troublemakers? Most of the time it is individuals or speakers who incite people. Some then call in or use their whistles. But that's completely normal demonstration behavior.

There are indications that right-wingers are hijacking the protests for their own benefit. We haven't really seen that yet. But we try to prevent that by all means possible. And we clearly distance ourselves from racist and undemocratic statements. We demand that respect for everyone is maintained.

In Schlüttsiel, angry farmers prevented Robert Habeck from getting off a ferry. The Economics Minister had to go back to the Hallig Hooge. Did the incident come as a surprise to you? We know that people like that are out and about too. Unfortunately we can't control that. We farmers' associations consider the action to be wrong because society's attention is now focused on exactly that and not on our demands and arguments. The incident in Schlüttsiel was anything but productive. We rightly expect respect for farmers and our profession, but we also have a duty to treat everyone else with respect and respect their privacy.

Because of the protests, the traffic light recently switched to a compromise: the vehicle tax remains abolished and the agricultural diesel price will only be raised gradually until 2026. Is this a success? This is window dressing. A small part was deleted to calm people down. But in three years the tax refund will be gone and that will cause high costs. This is not acceptable. That's why we will continue to protest. But the price of diesel and the tax are just two points that broke the camel's back.

So things have been simmering for a while? Agricultural policy in Berlin and Brussels has been haphazard for years and is actually directed against farmers. There were good approaches at the beginning of the legislature, but they are not being implemented. The frustration is now so great that the situation is now escalating because of these two measures that were decided overnight.

Who are you more disappointed with: Economics Minister Robert Habeck or Agriculture Minister Cem Özdemir? Cem Özdemir gave us farmers hope at the beginning. But he and the traffic light government are not delivering now. The best example: animal husbandry. There was so much talk about how to improve it. In the end, the so-called Borchert Commission, which had developed corresponding proposals, gave up in frustration. Nothing has been implemented to date. The government's lack of planning is destroying farmers' planning security. Robert Habeck, in turn, together with Chancellor Scholz and Finance Minister Lindner, decided on the measures already mentioned in a cloak-and-dagger campaign without an impact assessment.

What costs will farmers now face as a result of the austerity measures? For the entire industry, before the changes now announced, it was almost one billion euros for agricultural diesel and vehicle tax. The majority of it is still up in the air. But this is very different for each individual company. It depends on whether you travel a lot with tractors and machines. Organic farms, which tend to spend more time in the fields, are particularly affected because they do not use chemical crop protection.

For a medium-sized business, we assume a reimbursement of around 5,000 euros for agricultural diesel. But we also bear a large part of the additional CO2 pricing. This is in addition to the costs of fuel for us and the upstream and downstream areas that pass these costs on to us. Our industry is burdened disproportionately. Customers no longer want to pay for our products. But our costs for animal feed, for example, are increasing because transport to suppliers is becoming more expensive. All of this costs an average business around 10,000 euros extra per year. This is a significant part of our income.

Consumers will definitely feel this too. Production will be more expensive for farmers, but if it costs too much for retailers, then they will buy cheaper somewhere else on the international market. There are programs through which only local meat is sold. But trade also pushes prices down there. The costs are often passed on to farmers because we as individuals cannot negotiate accordingly, but we rely on trade and marketing.

In the end, all of this means that many successors no longer want to take over the farms. The job is wonderful, but the economic conditions are too uncertain for many people. That's why we demand that the tax increases be completely reversed.

And what else? Politics must become more agriculturally friendly. So far people are not being taken along. We see that more needs to be done when it comes to climate protection. But that doesn't work by dismissing subsidies as harmful to the climate.

Aren't they?No, because there are currently no alternatives for us. The government in Berlin has simply fallen into actionism without offering any clever concepts. This is dangerous because it also influences voting behavior - in all sectors, mind you. We are already seeing this in East Germany, where the next elections are coming up. And I really blame the established parties for this. Because no matter what the topic is, they don't take people with them.

What concept ideas do you have in mind? We need plans like those drawn up by the Borchert Commission, for example in animal welfare. This creates planning security. Or the Future Commission for Agriculture (ZKL), which has developed concepts with environmental associations, among others. That would be a start. Political decisions must be discussed. However, this was not the case with the vehicle tax and the agricultural diesel price.

How optimistic are you that the protests will make the government in Berlin rethink? We hope that our arguments will prevail and that the protests will have an impact. Of course, we don't want to lose the support of the population. Otherwise, the protests will not be over so quickly.

Would the farmers be willing to compromise? No, the two points of contention regarding the vehicle tax and the agricultural diesel price must be removed from the table. And then the government has to take the farmers back with them and motivate them to continue or take over the businesses.