One thing was certain: it would not be the same protest as in the Netherlands. “But we want to support our fellow farmers in the Netherlands with our campaign. Our way,” said Danny Hereijgers of the Turnhoutse Vennengebied steering group. It is not surprising that the action on Wednesday night occurred in the infamous Vennen area. They have been hardest hit by the nitrogen policy of the future.
“The action was not the idea of the steering group itself, but a few farmers who joined the protest in Stroe in the Netherlands. We could soon count on a lot of support from all over Flanders.”
The Kempen farmers moved in small groups with tractors and banners to bridges over the E34 and E19. The rest of Flanders followed their example. The farmers from the Turnhout Vennen area first met at the town hall in Ravels, one of the municipalities that is characterized by agriculture and where many residents are very concerned.
Remarkably many young people
Striking: Many young people could also be found at the town hall, equipped in black T-shirts with slogans in support of the peasants. “My parents have a dairy and calf farm. I want to get into it in the future, but I do not know if it can still be done, “says 16-year-old Britt. She doubts whether her generation understands the seriousness of the matter.
“I know people who know what the file is about, but others who have no idea. However, it is not difficult. In this way, the fresh food in the store becomes a lot more expensive, so even people without an agricultural background should see the seriousness, “she says.
“We’re really scared of our future,” says 18-year-old Emma. “Also about the way in which agriculture is put in the spotlight. Take for example the protests in the Netherlands, it is almost riots. We do not want to stand in such a light, it is not the right way. ”
†Always the same cassette tape ”
“We consciously choose to drive to the bridges in small groups. We do not obstruct traffic and stay calm. There is no benefit if we protest in the same way as in the Netherlands “, Danny adds. The man is a farmer’s son and has extensive experience in the sector: He worked in cattle genetics, in the agricultural and horticultural sector and at a construction company. He knows the nitrogen file down to the smallest detail.
“I have built up many contacts, and I know how painful the whole matter is for the farmers. The message we want to spread today is that not only farmers but also consumers will fall victim to this nitrogen policy. Belgian agriculture has one of the strictest food safety laws in the world. People need to realize that the doors will soon be opened wide open for lower quality food while the price will rise. With current inflation, I do not think anyone is waiting for even higher food prices. Minister Demir gives it a twist, but we have often proved with the steering committee that there are errors in the nitrogen register. But she keeps sticking her head in the sand in an undemocratic way. A correct agreement must be made in the interests of the farmer and the citizen, “he says. He emphasizes that the issue is largely alive in the countryside, but that the big cities have not yet followed suit.
“In the city, they do not understand why we are protesting,” says farmer Karel. “They believe that meat, milk, fruit and vegetables are on the shelves out of nowhere. You will not know how many toddlers and toddlers come to visit my farm and not realize that the milk comes from the cow. “Karel is also worried about the way the issue is presented in the media.
“When we talk, it is always one-sided and simplistic. And meanwhile, Minister Demir continues to play the same cassette tape. The last time she visited Merksplas, it was once again clear that she could not answer our questions. I think that’s sad. With zero fertilization in the binoculars, we can’t possibly still do our job, right? She locks everything in for us, “it reads.
Threatened with extinction
The peaceful protest came and was a success: tractors and farmers stood on almost every bridge on the E34, from Arendonk to Zoersel. They were even silent, though they could count on the cars honking under them. Also along the side of the road, in Ravels and Arendonk, one could see several black flags. Local police were on the scene at the bridges but did not intervene because the tractors did not block entrances and exits.
“Agriculture will die out, in the future we’re going to a museum to see a farmer,” Danny concludes. “Farmers have been making an effort for years, but suddenly the rules of the game change. It is pure bullying with major consequences. ”
Also in Hechtel-Eksel, young farmers expressed their protest by erecting a column of about twenty tractors on a bridge over the north-south connection. Over the railing they hung a banner that read, “Drill farmers, pray for hunger.” “We are young farmers from the wider region, from the Neerpelt region. This action occurred spontaneously and we took it. It is our way of expressing that we are really worried about our future.”
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Conversation with Minister Brouns
Dozens of farmers gathered Wednesday night with their tractors in the Colruyt car park in Bree. A group of farmers from Kempen also joined them. Several slogans hung on their tractors, such as “Demir wants farmers out of the ground. Food crisis follows for the middle class.” In groups, they went to Kinrooi City Hall. The Flemish Minister of Agriculture Jo Brouns (CD&V) spoke to them there.
Brouns was literally surrounded by the peasants and their slogan-clad farm vehicles, but answered all the questions he received calmly. “I think we are at a crossroads for agriculture and the challenges are well known,” he told farmers. “I have always said and will continue to say that we will create the future of agriculture together. After the Netherlands, nitrogen emissions in Flanders are the largest in Europe. We all have a responsibility for that. Also agriculture. We need to find a balance. We are just a handkerchief and we want to do many things on that handkerchief. And agriculture and nature and industry and mobility and housing and tourism on the small part. That’s a big challenge. But I want to do that with you. “
Then the Minister gave the floor to the peasants and listened to their questions and complaints. The conversation was calm and peaceful, though the peasants who had turned up were not entirely reassured.
Brouns subsequently confirmed that he was only informed of the protest during the day. “I’m glad we were able to speak in a dignified manner,” he said. “I will continue to do so in the future. We have to get through this together. ”