Prime Minister Gabriel Attal promised to work to make life easier for them by reducing unnecessary red tape

Vierzon (France) (AFP) - France’s new Prime Minister Gabriel Attal paid tribute to the country’s agriculture sector this weekend, responding to the growing discontent of farm workers angry at red tape and high costs.

But his farming minister announced on Sunday that a package of reforms designed to meet some of the grievances of the nation’s farmers had been postponed for fine-tuning.

Another rising political star meanwhile, Jordan Bardella of the far-right National Rally declared his sympathy for the plight of the farmers.

They were, he said, sick of the strictures imposed by “Macron’s Europe”.

Attal, speaking at a public meeting in the central town of Saint-Laurent-d’Agny on Saturday, insisted that agriculture was “an absolutely major subject… that I take very seriously”.

Praising the nation’s farmers, he promised to work to make life easier for them by reducing unnecessary red tape.

There is growing anger against 'the European Union and the Europe of Macron', said Jordan Bardella of the far-right National Rally party

At virtually the same time, Bardella was visiting a dairy farm at Queyrac, in the southwest, denouncing the policies of President Emmanuel Macron.

There is growing anger against “the European Union and the Europe of Macron”, who wanted “the death of our agriculture”, said Bardella, a member of the EU parliament.

French farmers are exposed to unfair competition from products from around the world that do not respect the strict standards they have to observe, he added.

Bardella will lead the National Rally into the European elections in June, where some political observers think it could pose a major challenge to France’s mainstream parties.

- ‘Can’t take any more’ -

Across the country, France’s farmers have been voicing their anger in recent weeks – and they have a long list of grievances.

Dozens of tractors have blocked access to the A64 motorway southwest of Toulouse

They are unhappy about rising costs, bans on pesticides cleared for use in other parts of the world, a sense of being crushed by the strict standards imposed on them, and what they see as unfair competition from Ukrainian imports.

The price of diesel is another sore point, an issue that helped sparked the yellow vest protests that caused Macron so many problems during his first presidential term.

In the southern Occitanie region, one group of farm workers started a blockade of the A64 motorway late on Thursday at Carbonne, some 45 kilometres (28 miles) southwest of Toulouse.

On Saturday, dozens of tractors were still blocking access, with about a hundred protesters gathered around braziers at their makeshift camp.

“You get to a point when you can’t take any more,” said Benoit Fourcade, a 50-year-old cereal farmer.

If France ever banned the controversial weedkiller glyphosate, he would leave his fields fallow and sign up at the nearest factory, he vowed.

“We are not happy putting people out like this,” said Nicolas Suspene, a 44-year-old farmer who is also the mayor of a nearby village. “But how else do we make ourselves heard?”

- Reforms postponed -

President Macron’s office instructed prefects across France to get out and meet farmers this weekend. And on Monday, Attal will meet leaders of the main farming unions.

Later this week, the government had been due to present its latest plans on how to help the next generation of farmers – their average age at the moment is 51.4 years.

But the launch of the reform plan, already criticised by the sector as too timid, has been postponed.

Agriculture Minister Marc Fesneau made the announcement on Sunday. “Give us a few weeks,” he told RTL radio and other news media.

More work needed to be done to simplify the measures, he said, meeting a complaint made by many of the farmers currently protesting.