To get it done, the letter writers suggest moving to a LU of 2.3 per GVE stands for GrootVeenUnits: one LU stands for one cow, five pigs or one hundred and fifty chickens. If we divide all livestock in the Netherlands by all agricultural land, this corresponds to a livestock density of 3.8 VE per acres. By reducing it to 2.3 LU, according to the letter writers, the emission of nitrogen could be halved.
The Drenthe farmers and nature clubs think something about that. Strong language such as ‘I think it is ill-founded’ and ‘too simplistic’ is used when discussing this issue.
“I’m so amazed, is it serious?” asks Dirk Bruins from LTO Noord. “I’m used to it, almost every day there is a group of people who say they have Columbus eggs. I sometimes get tired of all the solutions offered. But I would really expect that such clever minds were in capable of anything better than this.”
You cannot solve too much nitrogen discharge around certain natural areas with fewer livestock per hectare, Bruins believes. He draws a picture: imagine that you have a large barn with many hectares next to a Natura2000 area. Then there will still be too much discharge next to that area. “So it doesn’t solve anything,” Bruins says.
Eat only grass
The LTO foreman believes that the focus is completely off the nitrogen emissions, and instead is fixed on the amount of livestock. “If you have too much nitrogen, then you have to aim for less nitrogen. They really completely ignore that.”
Furthermore, says Bruins, fewer animals per hectares actually lead to more greenhouse gas emissions. Maybe not nitrogen, but methane. According to him, more extensive farming ensures that cows only eat grass. And cows that eat more grass emit more methane than cows that also get other feed, says Bruins.
If farmers are allowed to keep fewer cows, they are less likely to buy other food and therefore let their cattle graze more. This means more methane emissions. “It really surprises me that they really didn’t look beyond their nose,” Bruins concludes his explanation.
Sandy soil versus clay soil
Reinder Hoekstra, director of the Nature and Environment Association Drenthe, is not enthusiastic about the plan either. Although he likes the simplicity, he thinks the plan in the letter is ‘too simplistic’. The mentioned standard, 2.3 LSU, is not good either.
“Such a standard leads people on the wrong track. If I were to translate it to Drenthe, we should no longer do anything with such a standard because we might already be below that average. And that is not the situation. I think we have to make a difference between different areas. Clay soil, for example, requires something different from the soil here in Drenthe.”
Bruins agrees: “One soil type is not the other. I live in Drenthe and have dry sandy soil, which is very different to having heavy clay. I think we have to work with a number of goals and we have to be equally careful as possible. as possible to deal with the scarce land we have. We just have to eat.”
Nevertheless, Hoekstra also sees the appeal of the plan. “What appeals to me is a simpler system based on land use. We need to embrace that part together.” Nevertheless, Hoekstra stresses that the way it is now written is too simplistic.
“I think that with such a system you can also work near nature reserves on less intensive commercial operations, and that can certainly help.” But the fact that this system would ensure that the farmers no longer have to be bought out also makes the farmers wrong, he believes. The director of Drenth’s Nature and Environment Association believes that this will not help the companies that now want clarity from the government – the so-called reviewers.
Hoekstra believes that agriculture that wants to stop anyway has a greater interest in the government talking to them. “As soon as the public makes money available to speed up the transition, there are many entrepreneurs without successors who may consider stopping. To ensure that those companies stop faster with an offer, so that there is more space, there will be recovery by nature, i.e. what you must do.”
Hoekstra also understands that the subject of ‘buyout’ is a sensitive subject, because many immediately think of forced purchase. But in the picture he paints, the farmers themselves choose to stop, and the government can help with that. “In Drenthe, more than a hundred people have reported to the province that they want to quit.”
Box of eggs for 23 euros
However, there is a part of the letter that Bruins agrees with: The letter writers state that farmers must be supported financially by the public. “If you look at what an egg once cost, for example in the 1960s, suppose it was then three euros for a box. Then you would sell a box of eggs for 23 euros today.” And that is not possible, says Bruins.
Hoekstra also agrees with that aspect of the letter. “If you want such a land-based approach, farmers must be able to implement it. Then you must make sure that the tax system is in line with it.”