Farmer and concerned citizen in debate

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OOST GELRE – The editors of our magazines regularly receive letters. Some readers comment more than once. This is also the case with Rob Bongers and Herman Berendsen. These Oost Gelren residents seem to be diametrically opposed to each other in the discussion surrounding the current nitrogen crisis and the other effects of agriculture and animal husbandry on the living environment.

By Kyra Broshuis

Rob Bongers is chairman of Stichting Leefbaar Buitengebied Gelderland and was one of the main forces behind Stichting Megamestvergister Groenlo NEE. Bongers (69), a retired entrepreneur, is concerned about the environment and advocates a drastic reduction of livestock in the Netherlands. He regularly writes a piece about his view of the country.

Herman Berendsen owns Partnership Berendsen on Revendijk in Groenlo. Together with her daughter Melanie, Berendsen is involved in breeding and keeping dairy cattle and growing maize and grass. Berendsen resents the, in his opinion, one-sided discussion about and condemnation of the agricultural Netherlands. He wants to explain his work and invites Bongers to his company.

Warmly received
It became, somewhat to the surprise of both men, an animated conversation. Positions remain unchanged, but mutual understanding has grown. “It was a warm welcome at Berendsen’s,” says Bongers, “the boots were ready for the tour. The conversation was of course also about nitrogen. Opinions on the nitrogen problem were already divided at the start of the conversation; farmer Berendsen clearly had a much more nuanced opinion, but that should not spoil the mood in advance. During the tour, this theme came up several times, of course critical deposition value, nitrogen emission calculations, the problem with PAS detectors, etc. were discussed, but luckily there were clear differences in content. also different interfaces.” Bongers quickly noticed a number of things in a positive sense: “The spacious stables for the cattle, but above all the love for the profession that farmer Berendsen exuded in all his enthusiasm.”

Knowledge
Bongers is impressed by Berendsen’s knowledge of biodiversity, but argues that the real state of nature that determines the decline in biodiversity is specialist work. “Determining the state of nature with the naked eye is not a given for most of us,” says Bongers. The decline in the population of meadow birds was also discussed. They quickly agreed that there is a decline and that the cause is complex and that several factors play a role. Farmer Berendsen believes that the predators (birds of prey, foxes etc.) are mainly to blame here. Bongers believes that this should not be a problem with a sufficiently large meadow bird population. The reason, according to him, lies more in the intensive cultivation of the agricultural land, the use of pesticides and the fertilizer method. This causes disruption of soil life, resulting in too little food (including insects) for meadow birds. Bongers thought it was positive to hear how farmer Berendsen continues to make an effort to protect as many meadow bird nests as possible, despite his frustration that they are still regularly looted. Unfortunately, nest protection is essential if, for example, we want to spot vipers in the Achterhoek in the coming years. The highlight of the afternoon for the Bongers was the moment the cows were herded in from the pasture, it’s still a beautiful sight to see a herd of mooing cows in motion. Farmer Berendsen is into real grazing, he lets his cows graze out on the meadow approx. 6 months a year. Bongers would like to see a lot more of this in our region.

The visit was educational and useful, says Bongers, “but it’s a shame that our host’s land-based livestock farming is not yet commonplace among farmers; there is still much to be gained there, for example to slow down the emission of nitrogen.”

Pleasant surprise
Berendsen is also positive about the conversation. “I look back with a rather good feeling on Rob Bongers’ visit to our company. It was completely unknown to me which person would be present. Judging by the submitted articles in the Groenlose guide/Elna, it was a pleasant surprise for me not to be able to greet a grumpy, old and disappointed man.” Berendsen spoke to Bongers about the nitrogen problem. “I certainly don’t want to trivialize it, but it surprises me that the consequences of climate change (read: global warming) do not dominate. All nitrogen measures will be completely redundant, because many ecosystems will disappear by themselves due to the widespread warming.”

Global warming more important
Limiting global warming is of the utmost importance, believes Berendsen. “We must not pretend that we must/can save the earth, no, it will continue to ripple for millions of years after humanity, but we will let our family suffocate in the future and then also remember that we live in East municipality Gelre, whose board has been on its hands for some time now when it comes to the energy transition. Words can sometimes be converted into action. The idea that a few extra offshore wind turbines would solve the energy problem is not only naive, but also short-sighted; the sea water comes our way before the electricity.” Regarding nitrogen, Berendsen says that the impact of nitrogen oxides (NOx) is considerably greater than the ‘indirect’ danger of ammonia (NH3) on ecosystems. “And then there is the almost comical discrepancy that the more nitrogen that gets on the crops, the more CO2 is absorbed.”

Export
Bongers states that he prefers to see (a part of) intensive livestock farming disappear, especially because the majority of this production is export, ‘we import feed from distant countries and are left with the crap here’. That story is not complete, says Berendsen. “The vast majority of the mentioned imports are intended for human consumption, and the residual products are valued in livestock farming; milk, meat and countless basic products for human consumption. In this context, an interesting question arises as to how much deforestation as large as half of the Netherlands must take place to supply basic products for vegetarian and/or vegan food. The majority of exports from the livestock sector remain within 1000 kilometers (Germany has a larger diameter and could therefore transport over that distance without any criticism). The pot calls the kettle black because ± 50% of our food is imported from far away from abroad (coffee, tea, dried fruit, herbs, etc.), even by plane. So no, Holland is not (yet) pretending to be indispensable to the world’s food supply, but the rats have discovered that you don’t produce it in the place where you have the lowest footprint, including transportation.In fact, the innovations in slurry refining are far from sufficient, but it took it also took Edison a long time to develop the light bulb before it burned longer than a candle.”

In the end, a personal meeting and a good and open conversation turns out to feel better than writing posts. “I really appreciate that the editorial staff at Achterhoek Nieuws gives us the opportunity to give our opinions a somewhat grayer hue,” concludes Berendsen.

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