Farmers are expected to reduce livestock numbers by 30%
Thousands of farmers gathered in a village near the centre of the Netherlands on Wednesday to protest a government plan to curb nitrogen pollution, reported Reuters, many travelling by tractor from all corners of the country and snarling traffic.
The protest in Stroe, 70 kilometres east of Amsterdam, follows the introduction last week of targets for reducing pollution by harmful nitrogen compounds in some areas by up to 70% by 2030 – the latest attempt to solve a problem that has plagued the country for years.
Reductions are necessary in emissions of nitrogen oxides from farm animal manure and use of ammonia for fertilisation, the government says. Nitrogen oxides in the atmosphere help form acid rain, while fertiliser washed into lakes can cause algal blooms that kill marine life.
Farmers argue the targets are poorly conceived and unfair. They are expected to lead to a 30% reduction in the number of Dutch livestock, with effects more concentrated in agricultural areas bordering nature preserves.
“These reductions are so severe that those rural communities will be totally devastated economically, and that’s the reason our farmers are going to Stroe today” said Sander van Diepen, a spokesperson for agricultural organization LTO.
He said the industry supported reductions which would be evenly distributed across the country and which would also require sacrifices by the transportation and construction industries. They also contribute to emissions of nitrogen oxides.
The Netherlands is one of the world’s largest agricultural exporters. High-intensity farming of cows, pigs and other animals in the densely populated country has made it Europe’s leading emitter of the substances.
The government targets were intended to comply with rulings in 2018 by the European Court of Justice and in 2019 by the Netherlands’ Council of State that found Dutch policies had failed to address the longstanding problem.
In 2020, the government set a national speed limit of 100 kilometres per hour in an attempt to ease emissions. Construction projects are now routinely delayed due to difficulties obtaining licenses covering emission of nitrogen compounds.