Food control: Dutch farming on the verge of a disaster as government pushes to close 3,000 farms

By Chris McCullough for Tri-State Livestock News

FARMERS in the Netherlands are furious over government plans to buy and close down up to 3,000 productive farms in order to comply with controversial European Union plans to reduce emissions.

The Dutch government says it must reduce its nitrous oxide and ammonia emissions levels by 50 percent by 2030 to comply with EU regulations.

In order to do this it has proposed forced buy outs of up to 3,000 farms that are deemed as ‘peak polluters’ starting next year, if farmers do not sell voluntarily or take immediate action to reduce their emissions.

Thousands of Dutch farmers have been protesting around the country in the last few months, with more protests planned, but the government doesn’t seem to be listening.

These bold moves have emerged following several court cases in The Netherlands that found the Dutch government was not doing enough to address the nitrogen crisis.

At first the government introduced plans to reduce livestock numbers by 25 percent but have now gone further with the buy-out plans.

In the European Union The Netherlands is one of the most intensely farmed Member States with 1.1 percent of EU farmland producing 6 percent of food in the EU.

However, it produces over 10 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions per hectare, over four times the EU average, and also has high pesticides and energy use per hectare.

Farmers are also angry that the big industrial GHG emitters such as airports, oil and construction industries, are being offered a much less impactful set of regulations.

Dutch farmer Klaas Meekma milks over 1,100 goats at Deinum and says the government has made a mess of the situation.

Dutch goat dairy operator Klaas Meekma

Klaas said: “It’s a real shame how farmers are being treated in the Netherlands. They are being pushed out to make room for industry, aviation, transportation, solar fields and housing of the growing numbers of immigrants.

“And all because of a so-called nitrogen problem the government created itself. It was created by farming-hostile civil servants in The Hague who focused on nitrogen deposits and went a long way to select a large number of sometimes very small areas with nutrient poor species for protection in the EU Natura 2000 list.

“Since 2019 an environmental activist group is successfully suing the nature protection permits of lots of farms, that were originally issued by the government.

“Since then our country has a so called nitrogen crisis. It’s ludicrous that the national airport Schiphol Amsterdam and lots of industrial companies have no nature permits, and farmers are now being sacrificed to facilitate these other activities.

“The nitrogen rules are eagerly being used by the anti-livestock movement to get rid of as many livestock farms as they can, with absolutely no respect for what Dutch livestock farms have achieved in terms of food quality, use of leftovers of the food industry, animal-care, efficiency, exports, know-how, economics and more.

“These draconian rules will no doubt result in less exports, a downward spiral for the whole livestock business here, more dependency on food imports and more costs to maintain landscapes. It will also negatively affect rural communities where agriculture still is an important employer,” he said.

Politically speaking the support for the farmers is dwindling and even the Minister of Agriculture resigned saying he was not the one to bring these rules to farmers.

Klaas added: “We even have a Minister of Nitrogen now, and seen the Minister of Agriculture replaced because he couldn’t find any perspective for the farmers that want to stay in business.

“At the moment the first farms are summoned to reduce their herds drastically with penalties of hundreds of thousands of euros when not complying.

“The upside to all this is that a new political party called Boer Burger Beweging, a farmer civilian movement, has emerged and is gaining a lot of support, not only from the 50,000 farmers in The Netherlands, but also from a lot of people concerned about the way farmers are being treated.

“Polls predict the BBB could get close to 10 percent of the votes in the March provincial elections which will also result in a similar proportion of Members of the Senate.

“At the same time the current government coalition is losing support heavily and Dutch farmers are very eager to see this change realised,” said Klaas.

Fifth generation dairy farmer Trea Doornenbal milks over 200 cows near Appelscha, one of the main dairy regions in the country. Along with her husband Harry she is concerned about the future of the family farm that her 22-year-old twins Claudia and Jeroen want to take over.


Trea said: “It is not known who these 3,000 farmers are, but it is probably the farmers who are within 1,000 metres of an N2000 area. We ourselves are about 1,200 metres from such an area.

“However, there are many depressed farmers. The suicide rate is also high. Farming is now in the top 10 occupations with the most suicides.

“We try to stay positive ourselves as we have twins aged 22 who want to continue as farmers. They are the sixth generation and are in the middle of farming life.

“The new Boer Burger Movement has got one very enthusiastic person in it called Caroline van der Plas. She stands up for the farmers a lot. Pieter Omtzigt also has both feet on the ground.

“There are maybe one or two who realise that you don’t treat people like that, but the rest is there for the sense of power and money,” she said.

Meanwhile, airlines and road construction companies are buying up farms to get nitrogen credits. It is very sad that this is happening,” she said.

Some farmers in the Zwolle are of The Netherlands received a permit to expand cow numbers between 2015 and 2018, a so-called PAS notification.

However, due to a government error, these permits were not allowed to be issued. Now that permit has been withdrawn and the farmers must dispose of their cows.

Trea added: “If they do not get rid of those cows they will be fined. During that time they took out a loan from the bank to build new stables (akin to dairy barns in the US). Now they have that stable, which will become empty and no money comes in.

“It’s sad to say but the agriculture industry in The Netherlands is in a real mess,” said Trea.