Spanish farmers kicking up a stink over government closures

The Spanish government’s continuing austerity measures are having an adverse effect on the country’s pig farmers, who have taken to extremes to protest at the closure of cogeneration plants, which had been benefiting the farming community.

Last month Madrid announced planned cuts to energy subsidies, which has seen the closure of all but one of the country’s 29 government subsidised cogeneration power plants and pushed farmers to the brink of bankruptcy.
Swine
The Wall Street Journal reports that one local farmer released a 2,000-gallon spray of pig urine and feces into a city fountain to protest the measures. Thousands of other farmers have for some years been using the plants, which used the heat from generating electricity to turn pig waste into dried fertilizer pellets.

The farmers are further boxed in as European regulations on groundwater cleanliness limit the volume of pig waste a farmer can dump on each acre of agricultural land. But as a result many farmers will lose out due to having to either reduce their herds or paying to ship the waste farther afield .

Under the banner of the National Association of Pig Livestock Producers on Tuesday, about 1,000 pig farmers and treatment-plant workers wearing pig masks took their complaints to the source, dumping hundreds of bottles of foul waste in front of the Energy Ministry in Madrid.

Prior to the plants existence, Spanish pig farmers used to dispose of their animals' urine and faeces by applying them as fertilizer to nearby fields. After the EU imposed limits on this practice, the Spanish government decided to subsidize power plants that also processed pig waste.

Such plants burn natural gas to generate electricity and use the heat that otherwise would go to waste to dry the excrement, which then gets compressed into lightweight pellets and sold as fertilizer. Such cogeneration plants received more than €300 million in subsidies in 2012, according to the Association for the Environmental Treatment of Pig Waste.

The announced cuts went deep and would have cut the plants' revenue by around 40%—not enough to cover expenses, the waste treatment association said. The government has yet to fully enact the overhaul, but when it does the cuts would be retroactive to July 2013. Unwilling to incur certain losses, the plant owners chose to shut down.

Energy Minister José Manuel Soria said during a Senate debate March 11 that investors in renewable energy for years had received returns that were far too high. The subsidy cuts bring the returns for pig waste-treatment plants in line with other cogeneration plants, he said, adding that the closures would affect a relatively small portion of Spain's pig producers.

Spain's pig producers association says up to 4,000 farms producing about 15% of the country's pork would be affected.

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