A dozen farmers from the General Farmers Syndicate (ABS) gathered with their tractors at an Albert Heijn supermarket in Ronse last Friday in a demonstration against low milk prices, which they say are forcing them to operate at a loss.
Litres of milk at the Dutch supermarket chain were being sold for less than half a euro, according to the Flemish infocentre for agriculture and horticulture (VILT).
“Today, dairy farmers get between 36 and 38 euro cents per litre,” Lieven De Stoppeleire, advisor to the agricultural organisation, told VILT.
“Then you have to take into account packaging, transport and logistics. This price war is being passed on to other supermarkets, who in turn are increasing the pressure on us. But we can't take that any more.”
The demonstration at the supermarket denounced the imbalance between sale prices and production prices and called for fair compensation for dairy farmers.
The ABS would have preferred a larger-scale demonstration, but due to current coronavirus measures was unable to safely organise one.
They say that a consultation chain organised back in 2009 hasn’t been helpful for negotiating fair prices.
“We ask that the margins be distributed fairly, but eleven years on, we have to conclude that this is still not the case,” said De Stoppeleire.
“We try to work in a sustainable and qualitative way - society and politics also demand this. But that costs a lot of money. Just think of the construction of low-emission stalls in the context of the nitrogen story. These are costs that we cannot pass on to our customers. In this way, it remains a one-way street.”
The ABS says the issue isn’t unique to dairy farmers, either.
“We see the same thing happening with vegetables and meat, where additional charges are constantly being imposed,” De Stoppeleire said.
He added that there’s also still work to be done on the part of consumers.
“They must realise that the production of food costs money. But with such stunt campaigns, it seems as if it happens for nothing. It’s actually consumer deception. Such promotions with bargain prices at the expense of the primary sector can’t continue.”
Albert Heijn contacted the farmers' organisation to schedule a meeting, but the ABS says demonstrations will continue if substantial change doesn’t follow.
“If they cannot give us sufficient guarantees of a fair price for the farmers, we will continue,” said De Stoppeleire.
“In the past we have blocked distribution centres of supermarkets. I do not exclude that this will happen again.”