Dutch government willing to compensate farmers who shut down all operations

Council ruled in May that plan for nitrogen emissions published in 2015 is not nearly radical enough

Visitors to the Floating Farm in Rotterdam, the Netherlands. The farm opened in May and is as self-sufficient as possible, including recycling rain water and using solar energy. Photograph:  Marta Iwanek/The New York Times

Visitors to the Floating Farm in Rotterdam, the Netherlands. The farm opened in May and is as self-sufficient as possible, including recycling rain water and using solar energy. Photograph: Marta Iwanek/The New York Times

 

In an extraordinary offer the Dutch government says it is willing to compensate farmers who wish to do so to shut down their entire operations in an effort to control nitrogen emissions – these cause respiratory problems and damage to crops, woodlands and water sources.

The offer came after a massive French-style farmers’ protest in The Hague last Friday in which hundreds of tractors caused the biggest traffic jams in the country’s history. A second day of action is planned for October 16th, targeting the as yet unidentified “real polluters in the Netherlands”.

The Rutte coalition’s environmental policy was thrown into chaos in May when a council of state ruled that the nitrogen emissions plan published in 2015 was not nearly radical enough. In addition, the statistical methods it used to calculate current and future emissions were inaccurate.

The government has now been advised that to comply with that ruling will mean an immediate ban on all projects that could lead to new emissions – particularly in the vicinity of the Veluwe, a massive nature reserve in the centre of the country formed by glaciers more than 200,000 years ago.

That would involve a halt to all infrastructure work, as many as 18,000 construction projects, including substantial residential developments in Eindhoven and The Hague, a reduction in air traffic, a halt to plans to increase some speed limits, and the closure of all coal-fired power stations.

Already the building of an emissions-neutral nursing home near the Veluwe has been stopped because lorries travelling to and from the site would produce emissions.

Farmers would arguably be hardest hit, with major new restrictions on livestock, particularly pig and poultry farming, which together account for 46 per cent of the nitrogen emissions that contribute to acid rain – rainfall so acidic as a result of pollution that it damages the environment.

Step by step

“A solution will have to be found step by step,” said prime minister Mark Rutte, in a bid to assuage anger in the agriculture and construction sectors. “We are very aware of the environmental urgency, but there is no magic wand to solve this.”

The government’s offer to help farmers quit farming may not be too wide of the mark. A survey on Monday in a main farming magazine showed that 60 per cent of farmers – 66 per cent in the case of pig farmers – doubt the viability of their farms in the medium term. Some 40 per cent go further, saying they would abandon the business now if offered the right compensation.

Many said they were shocked to be seen by a new generation as “polluters” rather than food producers – responsible for “animal cruelty” rather than animal husbandry.