The Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality (LNV) takes into account that the recently presented nitrogen targets can lead to major farmers’ resistance that in some cases can disrupt society. This is stated in internal documents, which NRC has seen.
Various crisis scenarios were discussed in various consultations between officials of the Interior, Justice and Agriculture and the Association of Mayors. The scenarios vary from activists blocking the food chain and occupying government buildings to government officials and officials who are under threat. In addition, there are fears of serious incidents such as a collision by a tractor or suicide among farmers, which can be directly linked to the government’s agricultural policy.
One thing is clear: the Ministry of Agriculture is well aware that the plans presented two weeks ago are immensely drastic for the agricultural sector. It was then for the first time that it became clear per province what percentage of nitrogen they would have to reduce in the coming years. It is up to them to decide for themselves how the provinces do this. In Brabant, Gelderland and Limburg, emissions must be drastically reduced and agriculture can practically no longer exist around vulnerable nature areas. Emissions there must be reduced by 70 to 80 percent.
Next Wednesday, an estimated tens of thousands of farmers will demonstrate against the cabinet’s plans. The demonstration is planned in Barneveld, in the Gelderse Vallei: in this agricultural area, emissions must be reduced by almost two thirds: about 80 percent in stables and 18 percent in pastureland.
The Ministry of Agriculture fears incidents with tractors, such as collisions
A few hours after Christianne van der Wal (VVD), Minister of Nature and Nitrogen, presented her plans, dozens of furious farmers on tractors came to her home to tell her story. She was not secured at the time, as the NCTV did not consider it necessary. The ministry already feared such home visits.
On the same Friday evening, other farmers tried to surprise her colleague Henk Staghouwer (CU), Minister of Agriculture, who was on a working visit to a farmer, with an unexpected visit. The agriculture minister left in time, but his officials were crushed and allowed to leave only after speaking with the activists.
In the days that followed, the peasant protests intensified. Last Tuesday, farmers in the Achterhoek blocked the track on which diesel trains run that emit nitrogen. And an appointment between the agriculture minister and a farmer from Renswoude was canceled because the farmer had received intimidating messages from colleagues prior to the visit. The Ministry of Agriculture would not say whether it has recently filed a complaint against activist farmers.
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The resistance is not as fierce as three years ago. Then, a few months after the infamous nitrogen ruling of the Council of State of May 2019 that put an end to the nitrogen policy at the time, farmers protested in front of the provincial government in Groningen. During the protest, officers tried to keep the farmers away from the provincial house with batons. This failed: a tractor then smashed the door, and farmers forced their way into the provincial house. The Ministry of Agriculture fears incidents with tractors, such as collisions.
Mark van den Oever, leader of the activist farmers’ organization Farmers Defense Force, said in the Volkskrant last weekend that if the nitrogen plans go ahead, his action group wants to shut down the food supply or block the highways around vulnerable nature areas.
It is clear that Dutch agriculture will be overhauled in the coming years. According to the internal documents, it is essential that the ministers and officials involved do not bow to resistance from the sector.