The European Union (EU) has given its approval for the Dutch Government's plans to buy out farmers as part of an initiative to significantly reduce nitrogen emissions. This measure aims to address the environmental impact of livestock farms, which are a major contributor to nitrogen emissions.
Farmers in the Netherlands have been protesting against emissions reduction targets since October 2019. In response to these concerns, the Dutch ruling coalition has introduced a plan to reduce nationwide emissions of nitrogen oxide and ammonia by 50% before 2030.
Intensive farming has led to elevated nitrogen oxide levels in the country, exceeding EU regulations and posing threats to climate change and biodiversity. To combat this, the government proposed reducing livestock numbers by one-third, which some farmers feared would result in compulsory buyouts.
Under the recently approved voluntary strategy, the Dutch government will allocate nearly €1.5 billion (NZ$2.65 billion) to compensate farmers who voluntarily close farms located near nature reserves.
Approximately 3,000 farms are expected to be eligible for compensation. The aim is to halt operations at farms responsible for significant nitrogen emissions. By doing so, the government hopes to improve environmental conditions in these areas and promote sustainable and environmentally friendly practices within the livestock sector.
On Tuesday, May 2, the European Commission confirmed that the Dutch government's buyout plans comply with state aid rules. Margrethe Vestager, the Executive Vice-President in charge of competition policy, stated that the schemes would contribute to a more sustainable and environmentally friendly livestock sector without distorting competition.
The agricultural organization LTO emphasizes the importance of ensuring that the buyouts are designed in a way that enables farmers who voluntarily cease operations to properly conclude their businesses. LTO also calls for "transition schemes" that would allow farmers to reduce nitrogen emissions through technological innovations or by transitioning to alternative agricultural activities. These measures are intended to provide farmers with informed and well-considered options for their future.
The discontent among farmers regarding nitrogen reduction plans was further underscored by the victory of a pro-agriculture political party in the Dutch provincial elections held in March. Last year, farmers staged large-scale demonstrations, blocking highways and supermarket warehouses, to express their concerns about the reforms, which they perceive as a threat to their way of life. These demonstrations have also spread to neighbouring Belgium, where farmers drove their tractors into downtown Brussels to protest against plans to reduce nitrogen pollution.
The Dutch government's approved buyout scheme represents an effort to address nitrogen emissions by compensating farmers who voluntarily close farms located near nature reserves. This voluntary strategy aims to improve environmental conditions and promote sustainability in the livestock sector. However, farmers' organizations emphasize the importance of ensuring a smooth transition for farmers who choose to participate in the scheme and call for additional measures to reduce nitrogen emissions.