When the lawmakers forget reality: the fate of the farmer

Photo: Heidi Håvan Grosch Many Norwegian tractors are wrapped in protest about the unsuccessful negotiations.

Photo: Heidi Håvan Grosch
Many Norwegian tractors are wrapped in protest about the unsuccessful negotiations.

Heidi Håvan Grosch
Sparbu, Norway

There has been a lot of news lately about farmers working below poverty level and the Norwegian government doing nothing to help them. There have been tractor demonstrations through towns and cities, unfortunately not always to the greatest of success. “Farmers are driving their new machines in these parades,” a local farmer commented. “People get the wrong idea, wondering how they can complain about a low income when they drive something that costs more than the average person could afford.” But the truth is, the bank owns most of what the farmer has, things a farmer needs to run a business. “Not having a tractor is like running a carpentry business without a saw,” another farmer noted. “Or a fishing business with just a rowboat.”

Tractors and other farm machines wrapped in plastic line the roadways, with pictures of the policy makers plastered to them. This too makes a statement. If Norwegian farmers can’t make a living from farming they will stop farming.

“No problem,” says the average Norwegian. “We just import what we need.” But think it through. Importing all the food a country needs brings with it a multitude of problems. Importing food removes many of controls Norwegian food has had; there can be less certainty about its “purity.” Importing food takes away the base economy of this country, especially in areas like North Trøndelag that rely on the farming industry.

Take Steinkjer for example. Fewer farmers means fewer delivering grain to the elevator and pigs to the slaughterhouse. Fewer farmers means many of the local industries would go under. Fewer farmers means more and more people moving to the cities; I hear that those in the current government are encouraging that. Concentrate the population in specific areas, they say. And what about that traditional Norwegian landscape people around the world have come to love? Will the same thing that happened in Sweden happen in Norway, abandoned farms being once again taken over by forest? And then what happens to that forest and forest management when you have a population that no longer burns wood?

The current government is also wanting larger and fewer farms, thinking it will deliver the same amount of food to the population for a cheaper price. Again, there are many things wrong with that picture. Have you seen the Norwegian landscape? It is not the same as in central Canada where fields can be easily connected and farmed in one fell swoop. Here, especially in some parts of the country, there is a useable piece of land here and another there, separated by mountains, valleys, and rock. Remember too what happened in the U.S. Midwest with the birth of giant farms? More waste and complaints from people not wanting that smell wafting through the air of their communities. And remember, you need the fields to spread the waste on. See point one.

Heidi Pig photo

My sister-in-law had to stop pig farming (her lifelong dream) because being a full-time farmer meant she sometimes had to weigh buying groceries over paying bills. She was paying a lot more for the things she needed (food for the animals, etc.) and getting the same price for pigs her father got in the ‘70s. She did not live or spend extravagantly; she was just trying to survive. Many Norwegians cite the statistic that during WWII Norway was almost totally self-sufficient in food production. People were willing to pay a large percentage of their income for that. Now cheap is best no matter where it comes from. I know we are supporting agriculture in other countries, but what about our own? Don’t Norwegian farmers deserve to farm?

Decisions that affect the everyday lives of individuals are often made from the top down, and those most affected by the decisions feel those making them have no idea what reality is. This is the case in other countries, and for many Norwegian farmers it is certainly the case here. Perhaps the tractor demonstration parades and the wrapped vehicles will bring this issue more awareness. One can only hope.

Although born and raised a city girl, Heidi Håvan Grosch has upon moving to Norway become a farmer. Grosch and her husband have a Christmas tree farm and wild flower seed production, and many in her husband’s family is or has been farmers. For Grosch, this issue is real.

This article originally appeared in the June 6, 2014 issue of the Norwegian American Weekly.

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The Norwegian American is North America's oldest and only Norwegian newspaper, published since May 17, 1889.