By ALICIA LEÓN, Associated Press
NAVALMORAL DE LA MATA, Spain (AP) — Farmers in fluorescent yellow vests blocked highways in southwestern Spain with tractors and other vehicles Tuesday in the latest mass protest over what they say are plummeting incomes for agricultural workers.
The rallies, predominantly in the Extremadura region that borders Portugal, were called by several labor unions to demand government action to ensure more realistic retail prices for fruit and vegetables.
Ángel García, head of the regional young farmers association Asaja, said about 700 tractors were blocking the roads and urged all farm workers in Extremadura to strike.
The almost daily protests across Spain against high production costs and low prices for farm produce pose a tough challenge for the country’s month-old Socialist-led coalition government as the European Union plans to cut agricultural subsidies. The protests also come amid tariff threats by the U.S.
The unions and the government also blame major supermarket chains for slashing prices on fruit and vegetables and forcing farmers to sell their goods for less.
Jorge Garcia Luna, who grows both almonds and olives, says with big grocery chains trying to maximize their profits, the farmer becomes “the weakest link in the chain.”
“We are in a situation that you can’t afford to abandon farming but you can’t afford to keep going,” said Garcia Luna told The Associated Press ahead of the protest.
Industry officials say overall farm income dropped by 9% in 2019, the Spanish daily El Pais reported.
Tobacco cooperative manager Jose Maria Ramos says with export losses expected from Britain’s departure from the EU and a proposed 14% cut in EU farm subsidies, farmers have no choice but to protest.
“This is going to make it even more difficult to continue with the cultivation of tobacco,” said Ramos. “People just can’t go on, they go into the streets and show their anger.”
Officials from Spain’s main agricultural organizations met with members of three political parties in parliament on Tuesday and were to have more talks later with the Labor Ministry. The unions met with the government last week but continued their protests as no farm support agreement was reached.