French farmers vented their fury at President Emmanuel Macron on Saturday as he arrived at the annual agricultural fair in Paris, a giant fair long seen as a test of presidents’ relationship with the countryside.

A large crowd that had camped outside the night before broke in and scuffled with police officers in riot gear as Macron entered through a side door to meet with unions demanding an end to difficulties in the industry.

During an hour-long closed-door meeting before the fair opened, with top cabinet members at Macron’s side, farmers sang the French national anthem, “La Marseillaise,” at the top of their lungs, blew whistles, They raised their fists and shouted for the president to resign, while skittish cows and pigs brought to the capital from farms across the country looked on nervously from their display pens.

The rowdy confrontation was the latest in a month-long standoff in which farmers blocked roads in France and Paris, a movement that has spread to other countries including Greece, Poland, Belgium and Germany.

At stake are what farmers say are sharply rising costs, unfair competition from imports allowed into Europe from other countries capable of producing cheaper food and, especially, European Union regulations intended to contain or reverse climate change.

Agriculture accounts for around 30 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions and the European Union says drastic changes are required. Farmers say European targets are imposing stifling administrative and financial burdens.

As Macron emerged from the meeting, his face pale and drawn, he announced that his government would present a bill next month to address an “income crisis, a crisis of confidence and a crisis of recognition” for farmers in France. “We need to show recognition, respect, pride for the agricultural model and for our farmers,” he said.

It was the latest in a series of attempts, led by the new prime minister, Gabriel Attal, to appease farmers. But they are almost unanimous in demanding concrete changes rather than promises.

Macron remained at the fair, known as the International Agricultural Show, to engage in a lively impromptu discussion with a select group of farmers eager to communicate their frustrations directly. Many of them wore yellow, green and red hats to indicate the unions to which they belonged.

“Cheap grain imports from Ukraine are destroying French agriculture. What are you going to do about it?” asked a farmer, while Macron, without a jacket and in a white shirt and tie, listened and took notes.

“We can barely make ends meet!” shouted another. “We shouldn’t have to block every road in the country to get the help we need.”

Macron, who has struggled throughout his nearly seven years of presidency to connect with the poorest and most rural parts of France, where he is considered remote and distant, urged farmers not to see the situation as “catastrophic,” saying that the French agriculture “was not collapsing.”

He called for calm. “We will not respond to this agricultural crisis in a few hours,” he said, adding that his government was taking numerous steps to address deep-rooted problems, including holding negotiations next month at the presidential palace with unions of farmers, food manufacturers and retailers. build “an agricultural plan for 2040”.

That seems like a long road for farmers and their families struggling to make ends meet.

Macron said an “emergency cash flow plan” would bring together banks and the agricultural sector to help struggling farms, and promised to push for a European-wide solution to another problem: big supermarket chains forming consortiums. shopping to negotiate food prices, which farmers say deprives them of a fair income. He also announced the establishment of a production cost index that “would serve as a minimum price.”

“I am on the side of our farmers and French agriculture,” Macron insisted.

Before Macron’s visit to the fair, Attal had tried to head off protests by outlining a package of measures aimed at reassuring farmers that agriculture remained a top priority for the government.

“We want to place agriculture among the fundamental interests of the nation in the same way as our defense or our security,” Mr. Attal said.

But those promises did not appease the crowd that had come to the hall early Saturday morning. The crowd was so dense and noisy that at one point, farmers and police officers appeared to be at risk of being crushed. People were running over each other in hay-filled goat enclosures in one part of a large room that housed livestock.

Visiting the salon has been a rite of political passage for every French president since Jacques Chirac, who was in office from 1995 to 2007, and often served as a barometer of the ability to connect with rural France. Chirac, considered something of a gentleman farmer, was generally received warmly, while his successor, Nicolas Sarkozy, lost his cool at a protester whom he told to “get lost, you poor idiot,” a moment that would haunt him for the rest of the day. of their life. presidency.

Early in his term, Macron was greeted in the hall with an egg thrown near his face, but he continued his tour, meeting and greeting farmers in the hall.

But Saturday’s massive clashes with police were unlike anything that has happened at the fair in recent memory. They suggest that the farmers’ movement is unlikely to disappear anytime soon.