In order for Dutch agriculture to become more environmentally friendly, farmers should, among other things, reduce their livestock. Farmers are plagued by existential fears – and that’s why they take to the streets.

In protest against strict environmental regulations, farmers in the Netherlands have been in revolt for more than two weeks. They block the freeways with tractors, they burn hay bales on the streets, and they block the large warehouses of supermarket chains.

What is it about?

For decades, the Netherlands has exceeded European standards for nitrogen emissions. Natural areas are also damaged as a result. After all reduction plans came to nothing, the highest court pulled the emergency brake in 2019: the country must comply with the norms. In the spring, the government presented a plan. According to this, nitrogen emissions are to be reduced nationwide by an average of 50 percent by 2030, and by more than 70 percent in natural areas.

What does this mean for farmers in the Netherlands?

According to government estimates, a drastic reduction in livestock is inevitable, and this could result in the death of about 30 percent of farms.

What Makes Nitrogen So Harmful?

Nitrogen is only harmful to the environment in a chemical compound. Nitrogen oxides are released by industry and traffic. Another harmful compound is ammonia, which is produced by manure and is used as fertilizer on the fields.

Why are the conditions hitting the farmers in particular?

About 40 percent of the pollutants come from livestock farms, about 40 percent from abroad, and the rest from industry and transport. There isn’t much you can do about foreign emissions, there are already restrictions on traffic. For example, the maximum speed on motorways has been reduced to 100 kilometers per hour. In addition, requirements for industry, construction, air and shipping traffic are planned. However, research found that reducing intensive livestock farming would have the most impact.

Why is the problem bigger than in Germany?

This is due to intensive farming. In the Netherlands there are significantly more livestock per square kilometer – and especially near nature areas. The country is one of the world’s largest exporters of agricultural products. There are around 53,000 farms. In 2021, agricultural goods were exported for around 105 billion euros.

What are farmers upset about?

The farmers feel betrayed. They argue that they have always followed all the rules and made sustainable investments. They also doubt the pollutant measurements and miss a perspective for agriculture. Specifically, they demand more time for the conversion of the companies. And they rely primarily on technical innovations.

How will the conflict between farmers and the government continue?

The government hired an intermediary. But the farmers’ organizations reject him because he is considered a major supporter of the hotly disputed plans. A group of farmers propose a toe-point plan for greener farming, the Green Farmers Plan. It remains to be seen whether the paper contains a disputable solution to the conflict.