Farmer must and can also expand | opinion

Finally, the government recognizes that Dutch nature is in a worrying state. To reverse the trend, a change in agriculture is needed. Possibilities enough.

With food shortages in mind during the war, farmers were encouraged by post-war cabinets and from 1962 by the European Commission to intensify and specialize in order to increase productivity. Through information and education, they were encouraged to use the latest agricultural methods and techniques and to use chemical fertilizers, pesticides, concentrates and protein-rich grass.

Extensive land consolidations were also undertaken, economies of scale were encouraged and drainage systems were developed to lower the water table, facilitate tillage and promote seasonal extension.

Farmers who opposed the land consolidation were forced into line with fines and land expropriation. All this was topped off with substantial subsidies.

Consuming sympathy

Moreover, farmers did not have to worry about profits. These were bought up by Brussels, resulting in expanding mountains of butter and lakes of milk. When solutions were not found internally, the profits were dumped in the developing countries with disastrous consequences for the original farmers.

Farmers also did not have to worry about competition from countries outside the EU because imports were regulated by quotas and import duties.

The government’s policy was supported and facilitated by the banks with favorable financing conditions, the agro-industry, the dairy associations and the supermarkets. The farmers could also count on the sympathy of consumers because they always supplied sufficient food of very high quality at a very low price.

Side effects

We have experienced the negative effects of intensive business operations since the 1970s. Not only the quality of nature, landscape, water and biodiversity has been greatly degraded, but also the health of people and animals is affected.

In addition, intensive operations contribute to climate change and threaten the import of raw materials such as soy and biodiversity in developing countries in Southeast Asia and Latin America.

Nature, environment and landscape initially played a subordinate role in national and European agricultural policy. It has only been since the 1990s that environmental protection has entered the picture, and from 2013 climate change and the sustainable use of natural resources have been recognized as fully-fledged goals, alongside the main goal of producing good quality food at the lowest possible quality. price.

Do more

Much has changed for the better in Dutch agriculture since the 1990s, as evidenced by the fact that nitrogen emissions have more than halved since 1990 (WUR, Stikstofdossier, 2020). However, much more needs to be done to significantly improve the environment and the sustainable use of natural resources.

For example, the reduction of nitrogen emissions since 2010 has stagnated under the successive Rutte cabinets. Partly thanks to a strong agricultural lobby, partisan political interests always won out over social interests. But thanks to the State Council ruling in 2019, the current government is forced to drastically reduce nitrogen emissions.

Because agriculture was used to politics always bowing to its wishes, the drastic cabinet plans have hit farmers hard. Overnight, their lavishly subsidized government growth plans were thwarted by the same government’s plans, but this time in the form of livestock declines, resulting in farm relocations, business closures or a nature-oriented operation.

Perspectives and opportunities

Finally, the government recognizes that Dutch nature is in a worrying state and that recovery requires a significant reduction of nitrogen deposits. As the main source of nitrogen, agriculture will have to make a significant contribution, as foreseen in the cabinet plans.

But the government’s plans also include significant financial support of 25 billion euros. This amount provides perspectives and opportunities for agriculture in the form of a switch to farms with lower nitrogen emissions, such as circular, nature-inclusive or organic farming, relocation or cessation of business.

In addition, the government consults with companies in the agricultural chain that at the time facilitated intensification but failed to point out the negative effects of intensive business operations to create a healthy revenue model for farmers. Figures show that farmers share only a small part of the realized profit in the agricultural chain.

Penetrate permissions

Judging by the success of the transformation of Dutch agriculture from a small, low-productivity agriculture to one of the most modern and most productive in the world, the implementation of the cabinet plans is technically and economically feasible.

This does not apply to alternative plans in circulation in the form of technical adjustments, such as the installation of low-emission barn floors. Research has shown that the reduction in nitrogen emissions is significantly lower in practice than the manufacturers claim. Therefore, the State Council has recently canceled the nature permits for three farmers with low-emission barns.

Furthermore, the reduction of livestock is necessary because of the necessary approach to other environmental problems. This is primarily about improving water quality and biodiversity, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and storing excess water.

The latter should lead to higher groundwater levels in the spring, with which the precipitation deficits in the increasingly hot and dry summers can be supplemented.

Jeltsje van der Meer-Kooistra and Henk Folmer, respectively professor of financial management and spatial economics at the University of Groningen

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