Manure is hitting the walls as farm protests build around the world

By Staff
8 Min Read

Across Europe and India, farmers are slinging manure and marching tractors in protest of a range of issues they say are devastating their economic stability. As the unrest in some cases turns violent, the protests showcase how agriculture has emerged as a flash point in a global culture war around money, food, climate change and class.

The root causes of the widespread dissent are issues that could apply to farmers in the U.S. Producers say economic, regulatory and green policies are raising costs and regulatory burdens, creating an existential threat to their way of life. 

As protests rage on, could similar action occur in the U.S.? 

Behind the global protests

Two years ago, the European Union waived duties on Ukraine’s food exports to support Kyiv in its fight against the Russian invasion. This move resulted in frustration among farmers as the influx of cheap Ukrainian imports disrupted their trade partnerships and revenue growth. Consequently, Polish farmers staged a protest by blocking the A2 highway at a border crossing with Germany.

The Ukraine war sparked a drop in grain prices, and European producers allege they can’t compete with the price of Ukrainian grain and have demanded compensation from the European Commission.

Some countries are beginning to institute a tax for diesel tractors, as well as the taxation of nitrogen, which influences the industrial production of pigs and chickens.

While it isn’t a new challenge, farmers are also expressing concern over increased environmental rules that add costs and lower production.

Affected regions have their own issues they want addressed by lawmakers, and some have embarked on creative ways to express their dissatisfaction with the status quo.


Rallying against cheap imports from Ukraine, a neighboring country, is central to the Polish protests. Farmers are asking for tougher restrictions on agricultural goods from Ukraine.

Violent protests erupted in early March, which saw tear gas dispersed into crowds and almost a dozen protesters detained. Farmers on tractors blocked highways near Warsaw while some farmers have also dumped Ukrainian grain out of a freight train. 


For years, tougher environmental standards in France and across the EU have required French farmers to put their money towards new production methods. However due to global inflation following the pandemic, consumers have been searching for cheaper products. To compete with markets in other countries, French farmers are pressured to sell their products for little to no profit.

 The EU’s pending trade agreement with Mercosur, the economic bloc made up of Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, and Uruguay, has also fueled farmer frustrations. The deal would reduce tariffs on imports from the bloc, including agricultural products. Critics say it opens Europe to foreign products and gives a competitive edge to those countries.

In late January, French farmers set bales of hay alight and sprayed liquid manure at a local prefecture to urge the government to loosen regulations.


Trade deals that lead to cheap imports is also a top concern for Spanish farmers protesting in Madrid. After facing a devastating year of drought, manyare on edge and have decried an overly-regulated farm sector that has depressed profits for years.

Farmers also are angry at their southern neighbor, Morocco, which they claim is not facing the same environmental and sanitary regulations as Spain, allowing it to sell cheaper produce.

To get the attention of politicians and the public, tractors choked the streets of many Spanish cities, and in the northern city of Vitoria, protesters rang cowbells on the steps of the Basque regional parliament.


In the Netherlands, a court ruling on nitrogen emissions has triggered furious protests over government efforts to close farms and cut the number of animals grazing their land.

The protests have not gone unnoticed. The European Commission announced an exemption to EU farmers from a requirement to ensure a minimum share of their land is fallow while allowing them to keep associated support payments.


Farmers across India are protesting with a focus on guaranteed crop prices. 

The protests renew a movement that succeeded in getting contentious new agricultural laws repealed in 2021.

Could US farmers be next?

Reading through these protester concerns, U.S. farmers may be nodding in agreement. While the manure hasn’t been flung on state legislature buildings yet, the pressure continues to build on the economically challenged farmers.

Garrett Graddy-Lovelace, a professor of international studies at American University, said cheap imports compound the downward pressure on prices in both the EU and the U.S. 

Policy efforts flooded global markets with subsidized commodities and while the larger farms can use their economies of scale to weather the downturn, small- and mid-sized farms are systematically disadvantaged, Graddy-Lovelace said.

“Most farmers cannot compete with massive transnational firms such as Driscoll and JBS, and their vast quantities of cheap imports,” she said.

Concerns over regulation in the EU mirror the troubles U.S. farmers may be facing when trying to grow their operations.

“Getting fully certified requires capital investment and time and extensive paperwork, which preclude low-resource growers and disadvantage[s] most farmers of color,” Graddy-Lovelace said.

There are also local-level challenges.

“Here in Ohio, farmers are heavily regulated when it comes to the use of fertilizers, pesticides and in livestock production as it pertains to water quality,” said Ty Higgins, senior director of communications for the Ohio Farm Bureau, noting recent uncertainty following a court decision to remove certain dicamba-based weed killers from the market.  

Still, fundamental differences in how U.S. approaches agriculture policy make it more unlikely that American farmers would begin widespread protests, according to Dave Salmonsen, senior director of government affairs at the American Farm Bureau Federation. 

“Treating farmers as partners is a much better approach than putting them out of business,” Salmonsen said in a statement to Agriculture Dive. “AFBF helped to form a broad coalition of agriculture, forestry, food and environmental groups in the U.S. to ensure our leaders understand the importance of a voluntary, incentive-based approach to climate-smart policies.

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