Farmers have given a lukewarm reception to the latest stage of the Dutch government’s programme to cut nitrogen compound emissions by buying out hundreds of “peak polluters”.
Around 3,000 farms will be eligible for payments of up to 120% of the value of their business if they shut down. The scheme mainly targets livestock farms close to designated conservation zones, where European limits on nitrogen deposits apply.
The government has allocated €975 million to fund the scheme, equivalent to €325,000 per farm if everyone who is eligible applies, but ministers accept that the majority will choose not to give up.
Agriculture minister Christianne van der Wal hopes that around 500 farmers will take up the offer, which she has described as “wildly attractive”. “It would be very good if we manage to reach 20%,” she said.
On Monday the government opened a website where farmers can check if they qualify as a peak polluter. Some users complained that the online portal carried little information or guidance and was written in official jargon.
In het programma #AERIUS worden begrippen niet uitgelegd. B.v. “Type” dan kun je kiezen uit “Beoogd-Referentie-Tijdelijk of Saldering”. Nergens kom je een (i) tegen, waarin een tekstballon het begrip wordt uitgelegd. Je wordt dus niet aan de hand meegenomen bij het invullen.
— Peter van Grijfland ing.🏌️🔭🏰🌌🚀🛰️ (@puffeltje) June 12, 2023
More than half the eligible farmers are in Gelderland, an inland province with a large agriculture sector and a high number of nature reserves that are included in the European Natura-2000 network.
Most in Gelderland
Farmers close to Natura 2000 zones are the main target of the buyout scheme as the government seeks to cut levels of nitrogen compounds, such as ammonia and nitrous oxide, by 50% before 2030 and 74% by 2035.
According to government calculations there are 1,800 “peak polluters” in Gelderland, compared to four in Zuid-Holland, the largest province, and none in Groningen.
Cattle farmer Ben Apeldoorn, from Woudenberg in Utrecht province, told Nieuwsuur he was not planning to stop and claimed the government was trying to force farmers out of business.
“The sector has reduced nitrogen by 8% in recent years despite the absence of any policy,” he said. “We worry it’s not enough. Even if we reduced nitrogen by half, it still wouldn’t be all right.”
Van der Wal has told farmers that there will be no improved offer if they decline to sell up and the government could still bring in compulsory purchases if the voluntary scheme fails to cut emissions sufficiently.
“This approach will succeed if the farmers decide among themselves that it’s OK to sign up for the programme,” Van der Wal said.
“What I see at the moment is them saying to each other: ‘you’re not going along with it, are you?’ I want to break through that and give them a positive view of the future.”
The government has set aside another €500 million for another scheme for smaller-scale farmers who want to give up, which will allow them to claim 100% of the value of their business.
Official advice agencies such as the economic planning agency PBL have warned that voluntary schemes in the past have not generated enough response to meet the government’s targets and compulsory purchases will be unavoidable.
But forcing farmers to sell up would cross a red line drawn by the farmers’ rights party BBB, which is the largest group in the 12 provincial administrations and in the Senate, where the coalition parties need opposition votes to pass legislation.
Thank you for donating to DutchNews.nl.
We could not provide the Dutch News service, and keep it free of charge, without the generous support of our readers. Your donations allow us to report on issues you tell us matter, and provide you with a summary of the most important Dutch news each day.Make a donation