MASSLAND, The Netherlands (AP) – Straw bales are burning along a Dutch highway. Supermarket shelves stand empty because distribution centers are blocked by farmers. Then, in the evening, a police officer pulled out his pistol and fired at a tractor.
Dutch farmers are embroiled in a summer of discontent Which shows no signs of reduction. Their target? The government is planning to curb nitrogen oxide and ammonia emissions That they say threatens to destroy their agricultural livelihoods and drive them out of business.
Decreased targets It could radically change the lucrative agricultural sector in the Netherlands, which is known for its intensive farming, and similar reforms in other European countries – and predict protests, whose farmers also expel pollutants.
The unrest seems far away on Friday at Jap Jagward’s dairy farm, which occupies 80 hectares (200 acres) of grassland near the port city of Rotterdam, whose chimneys and cranes form a backdrop to its fields.
Jaguard’s 180 herds of cattle, mostly black and white Holstein-Friesian, graze in the meadow near a traditional Dutch windmill and large white wind turbine. And even if the farm has been in Jaguar’s family for five generations, about 200 years, he doesn’t know if he would recommend farming life to his 7-year-old daughter and 3-year-old twin boys.
“If you ask me now, I’d say, please don’t worry about it,” the 41-year-old said. “There are a lot of concerns. Life is beautiful to deal with what is going on in the agricultural sector right now. “
“Ask the average farmer: It’s deeply sad,” he said.
At the heart of the conflict between farmers and the Dutch government are measures to protect human health and endangered natural habitats from nitrogen oxide and ammonia contamination, which are produced by industrial, transport and livestock waste.
The Netherlands, a country of 17.5 million people living in an area slightly larger than Maryland, has 1.57 million registered dairy cattle and only 1 million being reared for calf meat, statistics show. The country’s farms exported 94.5 billion euros in 2019.
Nitrogen oxides and ammonia increase nutrient levels and acidity in the soil, resulting in reduced biodiversity. Airborne nitrogen leads to fog and tiny particles that are harmful to human health.
When the Council of State, the country’s top administrative court and legislative advisory body, ruled in 2019 that Dutch policies were inadequate to curb nitrogen emissions, it forced the government to consider tougher measures.
Unveiling a map detailing nitrogen reduction targets Last month, the Dutch government called it an “inevitable transformation.” It says the coming year will finally bring clarity to Dutch farmers, “whether and how they can continue their business. The minister sees three options for farmers: (more) to be sustainable, to relocate or to close.
The Dutch government aims to reduce nitrogen emissions by 50% by 2030 and has set aside an additional 24.3 billion euros ($ 25.6 billion) to finance the changes. Provincial authorities have one year to plan for achieving the reductions.
Nitrogen expert Wim de Vries, a professor at Wageningen University and research, doubts that the deadline is realistic.
“It seems very fast and has a legacy, already 40 years, because the problem was much bigger in the 1980s. We used to call it ‘acid rain’, “he said.” Considering that legacy, it doesn’t make much difference if we do it in 7 or 10 or 12 years. We have to wait decades for serious improvement in nature anyway. ”
Farmers have been protesting against the government’s nitrogen policy for years, but emissions targets have sparked new protests, with tractors blocking highways and supermarket distribution centers that have briefly seen some shortages of fresh produce.
Farmers also clashed with police outside the minister’s house An officer in charge of the government’s nitrogen policy and this week fired on a 16-year-old tractor. After initially being arrested on suspicion of attempted murder, the young driver was released without charge.
The Dutch government hired a senior political negotiator to act as a mediator, but the gesture was immediately rejected by active farmers and the country’s largest agricultural lobby group.
“The government gives no place to enter into real dialogue,” the agricultural lobby group LTO said. “Under these circumstances, it is pointless to talk to the mediator.”
The LTO, which represents about 30,000 farms – about half of the Dutch total – described the nitrogen reduction target as “simply impossible.” Dutch farms exported 94.5 billion euros in 2019.
The group said the government was focusing on reducing livestock and buying farms and was not paying enough attention to innovation and sustainable farming practices.
Environmentalists say now is the time to act.
“You tear the plaster from one wound at a time,” said Andy Palmen, director of Greenpeace Netherlands. “Painful choices are necessary now.”
Zegwaard’s farm is in an area where the government only wants to reduce emissions by 12%, yet he shows solidarity with others and supports the protests.
“The average person now sees the Netherlands as a nitrogen contaminant, while we are also a food producer. People seem to have forgotten about it, “he told The Associated Press.
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