PARIS (AP) — More than 1,000 tractors — and a few cows — descended on Paris on Thursday in a boisterous protest by farmers who blocked highways to express their anger over falling prices for their goods and high taxes.
They're facing increasingly slim margins they blame on cheap imports and high payroll charges, which they say make them unable to compete against Germany, much less Eastern Europe or beyond. The farmers are seeking tax breaks from the French government and EU action to level the playing field with neighboring countries.
Tractors spray-painted with "Anger" or "Enough Bureaucracy" trundled Thursday morning along major arteries to the capital, squeezing past tollbooths as they headed toward the Place de la Nation in eastern Paris. Some farmers plan to head to Parliament later in the day.
Protest organizer FNSEA, France's largest farming union, said 1,733 tractors from around the country were advancing on the capital Thursday morning.
Prime Minister Manuel Valls, who is pushing for structural reforms in the farming sector, said he would meet with the FNSEA chief Thursday.
Grain farmer Pierre Bot, from Vauhallan south of Paris, acknowledged that "it's not popular to annoy all the people on their way to work. ...Nevertheless, it's one of the only ways to make ourselves heard."
Like many small farmers, he feels increasingly squeezed out by factory farms and fears for the future.
Farming "is part of the French identity," he said.
It's also part of a larger debate over European farming and how to keep it globally competitive. A pan-European protest is expected Monday in Brussels during a meeting of EU agriculture ministers.
French farmers have been particularly vocal this summer, blocking roads on the German border and major tourist destinations such as Mont-Saint-Michel peninsula.
Thomas Adamson in Paris contributed to this report.