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Sweden's dairy farmers sour on industry's future

Published torsdag 24 september 2015 kl 15.32
"We can't fix something because we don't have the money"
5:38 min
Mynttorget. Foto: Annika Selin/Sveriges Radio
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Protestors at Stockholm's Mynttorget. Photo: Annika Selin / Sveriges Radio.
Dairy farmer Malin Sundin with the cover of a book she co-wrote about the difficulties of being a modern dairy farmer in Sweden. Photo: Frank Radosevich / Radio Sweden.
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Dairy farmer Malin Sundin with the cover of a book she co-wrote about the difficulties of being a modern dairy farmer in Sweden. Photo: Frank Radosevich / Radio Sweden.

Sporting white jackets with the phrase "I want Swedish milk even tomorrow", hundreds of farmers from across the nation gathered in Stockholm's Mynttorget this week to sound the alarm about how the industry is at it's breaking point.

Malin Sundin is a 3rd generation dairy farmer from Dalarna County in central Sweden. She owns 45 cows and sells their milk to Arla, a Swedish-Danish dairy cooperative. But a steady drop in the price for milk has made doing business a losing venture. 

"You can image we have a big difference" between costs and revenue. Sundin tells Radio Sweden. "It's really come to an end now. We can't have it like this anymore."

Coupled with those low prices are high costs. Sundin says what makes producing milk so expensive in Sweden is regulation. Sweden has higher standards for animal welfare, the environment and production than other European countries.

Sundin says she likes most of the rules that apply to the industry but that they make it so costs outstrip revenue by 2 to 1. 

"As it is now, those rules just make it so production moves abroad," she says.

In the run-up to the protest, more than 167,000 people signed a petition calling for the government to save Swedish dairy farmers on Monday and the signatures were handed over to Sven-Erik Bucht, the Minister of Rural Affairs.

According to the newspaper Expressen, LRF, the farmer's union, even handed over a red mobile phone to the minister, reminiscent of the hotline between Moscow-Washington during the height of the Cold War. It contained the numbers of 5 dairy farmers so that the minister could have an open line on the situation.

And the government isn't oblivious to the crisis. At the protest, Bucht said the government stood behind the farmers, though his answer was met with a barrage of boos. Bucht pointed out other measures in the autumn budget, including 300 million krona earmarked to reduce the diesel tax for farmers.

Above all Bucht pleaded for patience but that was hard to find among the gathered crowd.

Claes Littorin, who lives about 100 kilometer north of Stockholm, was one of about a dozen farmers who drove their tractors to the protest. Littorin is a former dairy farmer and now raises beef cattle. Even so, he says he is affected by the plight of his fellow farmers.

Our journalism is based on credibility and impartiality. Swedish Radio is independent and not affiliated to any political, religious, financial, public or private interests.
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