A farmer said that the Netherlands’ new government has been strictly enforcing nitrogen policies to curb cattle emissions, which is wreaking havoc on the industry.
Jos Ubels, the vice president of the Farmers Defense Force, runs a family farm in the northern Netherlands. He was one of the farmers involved in the mass protests, which began in 2019, against the government’s crackdown on nitrogen emissions from cattle.
“They do it to the maximum,” he said. “They try to regulate everything down.”
Dutch farmers have protested the government’s agenda to cut emissions from cattle by 50% nationwide by 2030, according to the Associated Press. One of the ways to do this is to minimize farms and cattle.
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Ubels said that farmers are willing to work with the government to cut emissions, to find innovative solutions. However, “our government says, no, we just want less animals. We want smaller farms,” he said.
“Our government decided they made up some way of dealing with it. But then environmental organizations stood up [and went to]… court with the government and actually this environmental organization won. So from this moment on, nitrogen laws [were] tightened and very strict. Our government is exaggerating [the stringencies] because they are scared of more lawsuits.”
Some farmers were labeled super-polluters and were offered buyouts after protests curbed more stringent demands. The tight regulations are pressuring families to sell their farms to the government.
“The family farms are forced to sell their farm to the government and quit farming in all of Europe,” he said. “So if you sell your farm to the government, you get a prohibition to farm anywhere in Europe. These are very heavy measures that are… not humane because, yeah, we [are] also just human beings, we have our rights, and we have our rights to be free in the Netherlands.”
According to the government, “The Netherlands is also being confronted with climate change and threats to the quality of the soil and water. That is why the government is combining nitrogen measures with other measures to improve… the Netherlands’ climate obligations.”
However, Ubels feels that the farming industry has been “picked on” more than the transportation industry – especially at the beginning of the crackdown in 2019. The regulations on farming can have implications for the global food supply, he said. The Netherlands is the No. 2 global exporter of agricultural products.
“But the problem is if this policy is too harsh… [and] strict, that is for sure that no company can survive,” he said.
“I think without farming, humans will have a very, very scarce life, very bad life because there will be hunger. And if there is hunger, there will be war. And if there is war, there will be death. And I think if you want to have peace of mind and peace in the world, you need… good, healthy food for as many people as you can.”
“They are focusing way too much on farming,” he said. “So this is… not a thing that you need to reduce emissions because the food that we are producing is eaten by people… As long as we have this amount of humans in the world, we still need this amount of food.”
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Ubels also disagrees with this assertion about farming causing havoc – to the levels described by critics – on the environment.
“This is not a sincere problem at all. Of course, there is nitrogen pollution and, of course, agriculture is contributing to nitrogen emissions. But it’s not very clear if the emissions are the main cause of nature declining in the Netherlands,” he said.
Ubels, who comes from generations of farmers, raises the cattle, fattens them and then sells them to the local market. He described what he loved about farming, namely being a part of the “circle of life,” and a partner in creation.
“I think farming is in several ways very beautiful. First, you are free. You decide what to do and when to do it,” he said. “You are totally your own boss.”
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He continued, “I love when you create something, and creation can be at the biggest form – when a new calf is born or a new crop is growing. It brings me a lot of satisfaction because you really contribute to the system that is called nature and the world. And I love this feeling.”
His love for farming propels him to stand up to the government.
Farmers Defense Force believes “mass demonstrations” can curb what they deem to be oppressive regulations.
“FDF’s approach has proven that you can block corrupt governments, tackle them, teach them a lesson,” the organization states. “And if you ask people from all over the world, they thought that the Netherlands was a perfect example of a very democratic, free country. And with this new government that we had the last years and the changes that they are trying to push on farming, and the way they that they deal with problems, are actually pretty undemocratic and are hurting the society in the Netherlands harshly.”
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