Farmers fear they will not be able to put their cows to pasture without a permit following a court case brought by environment activist Johan Vollenbroek in Overijssel, who wants the impact of cow urine and manure outdoors to be included in pollution calculations.
The province does not require farmers to have a permit because it does not consider the practice harmful to nature, something Vollenbroek and environmental organisations disputed. The judge found that the provincial authorities had been wrong to assume that there would not be a damaging effect.
The ruling may open the door to farmers everywhere having to apply for a permit every year, farmers’ organisations LTO Nederland and team Agro NL said. In turn this will lead to more red tape for the 84% of dairy farmers who currently put their cows to pasture.
It will also create ‘unworkable situations’, the organisations said, because circumstances determining when the cows are left to graze, such as the weather and the amount of grass, vary each year.
Farmers, supported by Wageningen University researchers, have always maintained that putting cows out to pasture reduces the amount of ammonia, as manure and urine remain separated.
Farmers are also angry that earlier findings by a government commission are being ignored.
‘The commission and the agriculture ministry have repeatedly stated that putting cows out to pasture is part of normal farming practice and does not require an additional permit. It’s very worrying that a court case now opens the door to just that,’ the organisations said.
Environmental group Leefmilieu said its aim is not to bar farmers from putting their cows in the fields but say the impact should be used when calculating a farm’s nitrogen emissions.
The legal action is aimed at ‘putting pressure on the government to tackle nitrogen-based pollution so nature is better protected and farmers know where they are,’ the organisation said.