IT’S HARD TO KEEP ‘EM DOWN ON THE FARM WHEN YOU’RE TRYING TO SHUT DOWN THE FARM: Why Greens Can’t Keep Angry Farmers Down on the Farm, in the Netherlands or Globally.
Farmers in the Netherlands reduced nitrogen pollution by nearly 70% through a voluntary system. But the government says that is not enough and is demanding that they cut pollution by another 50% by 2030.
By the Dutch government’s own estimates, 11,200 farms out of the roughly 35,000 dedicated to dairy and livestock would have to close under its policies; 17,600 farmers would have to reduce livestock; and total livestock would need to be reduced by one-half to one-third. The Dutch government has demanded that animal farming stop entirely in many places. Of the over $25.7 billion the government has set aside to reduce pollution, just $1 billion is for technological innovation, with most of the rest for buying out farmers.
This effort has sparked a fierce backlash among Dutch farmers, who argue that the government seems more interested in reducing animal agriculture than in finding solutions that protect the food supply and their livelihoods.
Farmer protests in the Netherlands come at a time of heightened global food insecurity created by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, a major wheat exporter.
The Netherlands is the largest exporter of meat in Europe and the second largest exporter of food overall by economic value in the world, after the United States, a remarkable feat for a nation half the size of Indiana. Farm exports generate nearly $100 billion a year in revenue. Experts attribute the nation’s success to its farmers’ embrace of technological innovation.
The Netherlands is just one of the countries where governments are pushing for sharp limits on farming. Canada, for example, is seeking a 30% reduction in nitrogen pollution by 2030. While the Canadian government says it is not mandating fertilizer use reductions, only pollution reductions, experts agree that such a radical pollution decline in such a short period will only be possible through reducing fertilizer use, and thus food production. The cost to farmers would be between $10 billion and $48 billion.
“If you push farmers against the wall with no wiggle room, I don’t know where this will end up,” said Gunter Jochum, president of the Western Canadian Wheat Growers Association. “Just look at what’s happening in Europe, in the Netherlands. They’ve had enough of it.”
The rest of us should be just as angry.