French farmers in tractor protest
(PARIS) - More than 1,000 French farmers rode into Paris on their tractors on Tuesday, bringing their worries about falling grain prices and farming's future to President Nicolas Sarkozy's door.
The convoy rolled into the capital on a main thoroughfare at only 35 kilometres (27 miles) per hour, displaying banners that read "Sarkozy get to work! Don't sell out agriculture."
Tractors headed for eastern Paris, where some 10,000 farmers were gathering for a demonstration to press Sarkozy's government to take action to help stave off farm bankruptcies.
"We are facing a drastic situation," said farmer Christophe Derycke from the Paris region. "Commodity prices are not going up and we have to pay more social charges. The situation is unbearable."
Last year, grain farm revenues plunged by an average of 51 percent due to falling prices.
Barley, for instance, is trading at 90 euros (120 dollars) a tonne, well below production costs, according to the agriculture ministry.
The farmers demanded emergency aid measures and warned that France, Europe's agriculture powerhouse, will fall behind Germany and Belgium, which they argue have taken steps to revive the sector's competitiveness.
"Sarkozy and his government are not listening to us. So we have come to them," said farmer Constant Floquet.
French Agriculture Minister Bruno Le Maire acknowledged that the farmers were in a "terribly difficult" situation and warned that "thousands of farms could be lost" unless steps were taken.
"This is not just the umpteenth crisis in the farm sector. We are at a turning point for French and European agriculture," Le Maire told France Inter radio, urging the European Commission to intervene.
More than 1.1 million people work in agriculture in France, Europe's top cereals producer.