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Jérôme Bayle and Other French Farmers

Updated: Feb 28

Jérôme Bayle, farmer and former rugby player, has frequented international news in the past few weeks. His yellow baseball cap and neatly trimmed beard have become recognizable as the face of le mouvement agricole (the agricultural movement). He speaks on behalf of many struggling farmers in France, and in a local protest sparked a national movement and created change in the laws of France intended to aid farmers throughout the nation.

Drought & Disease  

French farmers are being confronted with many hardships. Of these, many are natural circumstances worsened by climate change. 

Much of Europe is facing drought. Some said last summer was the driest in 500 years. This has devastated crop and livestock farmers alike. 

Additionally, farms raising cattle have been hit hard by a disease called (in French) le maladie hémorragique épizootique. It affects animals primarily in the bovine (cow) and cervid (deer) families. However, goats, sheep and animals in the camelid family can carry the virus (though they don't get sick). This virus causes fever, runny nose, sores on the nose, and lameness (difficulty walking). 

This illness isn't native to France. It was first noticed in continental Europe at the end of October in 2022. There currently isn't a vaccination against this disease, or any way to treat the disease itself. For now, farmers can only remain vigilant among their herds, and treat symptoms as they appear. 

Unpopular Policies

Other stresses on French farms are created by policy, some national, some from the European Union. Many of these were created with a greener, more sustainable agricultural model in mind. Undoubtedly, such efforts are essential for the sustainability of our world. However, some farmers in France feel like they are shouldering too much of an economic burden with some of these regulations. For example, one such regulation is a tax on the type of diesel that powers the tractors that power farms. 

Additionally, French farmers are competing with foreign imports grown under less stringent regulations, and therefore sold at a lower price. 

Roadblock on the A64

Jérôme Bayle has seen the recent struggle in his local agricultural community, and he wants to alleviate the pressures straining his friends and anyone else struggling under these conditions.

After failing to reach an agreement with local and regional policy-makers, Bayle decided it was time for a protest. He blocked the A64 (autoroute 64) with his tractor, and nearly 200 tractors from supporters and friends in the community. His demands were for irrigation, government aid against le maladie hémorragique épizootique, and an abolishment of the tax on tractor diesel.

His demands were met within the week, during a meeting with Prime Minister Gabriel Attal. 

Some praise Bayle for his protest techniques: the demonstration was nonviolent and highly effective. Others criticize Bayle and the whole movement. They believe the policies being protested are essential, or criticize Bayle himself for his tactics. 

In any case, Bayle, hero or villain, has become a widely-recognized figure in the past few weeks, and started a movement creating big changes in France. 

Written by Jasmine Grace, University intern

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