Agriculture must be more sustainable, but nitrogen is not a problem, say the majority of farmers

Almost three quarters of farmers and gardeners believe that the Dutch agricultural sector should become more sustainable. In principle, more than 84 percent are willing to invest in sustainability if there is a guarantee that their investments will pay for themselves.

This is shown by a study carried out by the trade journal New harvest among nearly 1,400 field farmers, dairy and poultry farmers, pig farmers, onion growers and tree nurseries. The survey results are not broken down into the different types of farmers and gardeners: it is therefore impossible to determine whether dairy farmers think differently about sustainability than, for example, pig farmers or gardeners.

Only half of the farmers and gardeners surveyed believe that sustainability should be paid for by the ‘market’. 30 percent agree with the statement that sustainability must be partially financed by the market. At the same time, the majority of respondents do not believe that much can be expected from this market: 77 percent of farmers and gardeners believe that consumers are not willing to pay extra for sustainably produced agricultural products.

‘There is no nitrogen problem’

Farmers and gardeners often see the state of the Dutch environment differently than others, such as the cabinet. Two-thirds of them believe that the Netherlands does not have a nitrogen problem. Almost as many farmers believe that the quality of the water, both ground and surface water, is fine.

The vast majority of those questioned think that their company fits in well with the environment. More than half would prefer to keep the company as it is now. Even so, 65 percent state that the current agriculture and horticulture does not have a sustainable income model. Many farmers are seeing their costs rise and feel that the retail sector, especially the supermarkets, are taking the profits.

More than 84 percent agree or partially agree with the statement ‘I am prepared to invest in sustainability if I am guaranteed that I can make a return’. On the other hand, only 42 percent see sustainability or partial sustainability as a revenue model. This is due to the high costs that farmers expect to incur and the belief that consumers do not want to pay anything extra for sustainably produced food.

How to change?

A lot of farmers worry about change. About a fifth think about working with more attention to nature. There are also farmers who are considering working more extensively or switching to organic farming. Thirteen percent would like to aim for further scale-ups or (9 percent) for further intensification. There are also farmers who say they cannot invest in sustainability because they do not have the money for it.

That a large number of farmers would like to work more environmentally friendly also emerged from a survey carried out Fidelity in 2018 under the heading ‘The state of the farmer’. Eighty percent of the nearly 2,300 farmers who responded to the survey said they wanted to work in a more environmentally friendly way, and 50 percent wanted to do so within ten years.

More than half of the respondents said then that agricultural companies should no longer focus on exports. More than 70 percent said they found it unacceptable that nature would come under pressure from even more intensive agriculture and animal husbandry.

At the time, Trouw also measured some dissatisfaction among the farmers. They felt misunderstood by the outside world and kept in a corner by the media, politicians, supermarkets and environmental organisations. They felt that they were poorly represented by traditional advocates such as LTO Nederland.

At the end of 2019, when the nitrogen issue was just playing out, it appeared that this dissatisfaction had increased and that many farmers had no problem taking hard action against the government’s policy. At the time, Trouw investigated a lot of farmers’ support for the radical Farmers Defense Force by Mark van den Oever and for BoerBurgerBeweging by Caroline van der Plas.

Also read:

2500 farmers come up with a plan to solve the agricultural crisis. ‘Less nitrogen and no fertiliser’

The Cabinet is today receiving advice from a group of farmers which are already sustainable. ‘We outline a perspective for all farmers in ten points.’

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