Everything you need to know about the government’s nitrogen policy and the Dutch farmers’ protests

Everything you need to know about the government’s nitrogen policy and the Dutch farmers’ protests

On June 22, farmers from across the Netherlands are coming together in Stroe to once again protest the Dutch government’s nitrogen policy, or stikstofbeleid. But what is it that the farmers are protesting exactly, and what will Wednesday’s protest mean for you? Here’s everything you need to know about the Dutch farmers’ protests.

How does farming create nitrogen emissions?

Practically everyone living in the Netherlands is contributing to the country’s so-called nitrogen crisis, known in Dutch as the stikstofcrisis. If you have a stove that runs on gas in your home, then this also contributes to the country’s nitrogen emissions. 

Of course, this is only on a very small scale. Nitrogen oxides are also released by cars and planes, and in a number of factories and industries - including farming. In the agricultural industry, the production of ammonia is the key issue.

But why does farming emit so much nitrogen? It all comes down to the livestock. Ammonia is produced when animal excretion comes into contact with oxygen, releasing nitrogen oxides into the atmosphere. Figures suggest that Dutch farms - specifically dairy farms - are responsible for a significant amount of the country’s overall nitrogen emissions.

What is the Dutch government’s nitrogen policy?

Since the 1990s, the Dutch government has worked to implement policies to limit the Netherlands’ carbon footprint and nitrogen emissions. Many of these policies have proved successful, significantly reducing nitrogen emissions across a number of sectors and industries. However, one industry in particular has spent years fighting the government’s approach. 

Nitrogen emissions in the Dutch agricultural sector haven’t been falling at the rate the government and environment groups had hoped, meaning that back in 2019 the cabinet moved to introduce tougher rules for farmers. These measures include ensuring livestock receives feed with low protein levels, and providing funding to buy livestock from farmers who want to stop farming.

Over the past three years, farmers from across the Netherlands have held and attended various protests in order to fight back against the government’s approach. But earlier this month, Christianne van der Wal, Minister for Nature and Nitrogen, brought the situation to a head when she presented a controversial 10-step plan outlining one key goal: three regions - the Gelderse Vallei, North Brabant and Limburg - need to reduce nitrogen emissions by more than 50 percent by 2030. 

Why are Dutch farmers protesting?

Van der Wal’s goal has huge consequences for farmers operating in these areas, as they’ll have to significantly reduce their livestock. The proposal features five options for reducing emissions:

  • Invest in sustainable technologies to ensure cleaner stables 
  • Switch to circular agriculture (i.e. use only the space and resources that are absolutely necessary) 
  • Adjust the farm’s business model (i.e. limit livestock numbers, change crops, use land to establish another business)
  • Move house 
  • Quit farming

Perhaps unsurprisingly, thousands of farmers have expressed anger about these proposed solutions, explaining that Van der Wal’s suggestions have left them feeling uncertain about their futures and the future of their families. They also argue that, for years, the Dutch government invested heavily in agriculture, encouraging farmers to expand their businesses, and that the new plan is in complete opposition to earlier policies.

They say that the government’s plan will lead to the wide-scale destruction of rural society in the Netherlands and the disappearance of a number of family businesses. They also argue that the policy to buy livestock and farms will cost Dutch citizens more in taxes than investing in innovation would, and that scaling down the Dutch agricultural industry would mean the country would have to import more food from abroad, thereby increasing the country’s overall carbon footprint.

What do the farmers want? 

The main point the farmers are making is that the current approach for reducing nitrogen emissions isn’t feasible or fair. Instead, they would like to see the government explore other solutions to the nitrogen crisis. 

When and where are farmers in the Netherlands protesting?

20.000 people are expected to travel from The Hague, Groningen, North Brabant, and Limburg to the protest in Stroe, a small village located in the province of Gelderland, between Amersfoort and Apeldoorn, on Wednesday, June 22. 

Some protesters met in The Hague at 7am on Wednesday morning before travelling to Stroe together. Some farmers from further afield set off at 5am on Wednesday morning, and many aren't expected to arrive at the protest until midday. 

Several politicians and speakers will also be in attendance on Wednesday, including Mark van der Oever from Farmers Defence Force and BBB party leader Caroline van der Plas.

What does the boerenprotest mean for me?

Wednesday’s protest is expected to cause disruption in various Dutch towns and cities and on the roads. Many will be travelling by tractor, which means that hundreds of tractors will be on Dutch roads and highways throughout the day on Wednesday. Traffic jams have already been recorded on a number of roads near The Hague, Eindhoven, and Den Bosch, and both the Royal Dutch Touring Club (ANWB) and Rijkswaterstaat have called on members of the public to postpone any trips in or to the middle of the country if possible. 

“The Hoevelaken junction…[and] the entire area around it - the A1 and A28 at Amersfoort, the A30 and the A12 - will be busy. The farmers will probably also travel a lot via N-roads, but it's hard to predict which ones will get busy,” the ANWB explains. Many roads in and around Stroe will be closed throughout Wednesday, including the N310 between Harskamp and Stroe and entrance and exit ramps on the A1.

Public transport in the local area is also expected to be affected by the protest. On Tuesday afternoon, public transport operator Syntus Utrecht warned passengers that there would likely be a number of delays across various routes throughout the entire region on Wednesday.

Municipalities, companies, and schools in and around Stroe have also taken measures in order to limit the risk of disruption or disputes. A number of local schools and businesses have closed their doors for the day.

Thumb: ingehogenbijl via Shutterstock.

Victoria Séveno


Victoria Séveno

Victoria grew up in Amsterdam, before moving to the UK to study English and Related Literature at the University of York and completing her NCTJ course at the Press Association...

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