Burning hay, tractor blockages: Farmers protest shocks the Netherlands

Burning hay, tractor blockages: Farmers protest shocks the Netherlands
'No farmers, no food'. Credit: Belga

A Dutch coalition agreement that earmarked €25 billion to fight nitrogen emissions and allocated a Minister for Nitrogen has sparked nationwide protests by angry farmers. The policy aims to reduce nitrogen emissions by up to 70% in some regions, making agriculture and holding cattle impossible.

Newly appointed Minister for Nature and Nitrogen Christianne van der Wal-Zeggelink imposes tough targets, while Agriculture Minister Henk Staghouwer offers little perspective on how farmers should proceed.

The official narrative states that there is a need for a different type of agriculture, which is less intensive and cleaner. However, in practice it comes down to less agriculture, meaning many companies will have to downsize or disappear.

In response to the ambitious policy, farmers in the Netherlands are revolting en masse, as their livelihoods are threatened. They have united in the ‘Farmers Defence Force’ and organised national demonstrations against the upcoming nitrogen policy. In addition, the political party Farmer-Citizen Movement is rising in popularity.

Harsh demonstrations

Farmers' protests kicked off in 2019, when a series of civil disobedience demonstrations by Dutch livestock farmers took place, which included using tractors to block major roads, occupying public spaces, and intimidating officials.

Traffic is halted by tractors and burning hay bales on the road, for instance on the A12 between The Hague and Utrecht on Tuesday morning.

On Monday and Tuesday, farmers moved tractors to the private home of the Nature and Minister, after which a major action took place near the natural area Veluwe.

Farmers broke through a police barrier in front of the home of Nature and Nitrogen Minister Van der Wal-Zeggelink, where extra security was placed two weeks earlier. Hay was burnt, firecrackers were thrown at the house, and a police car was pushed aside and destroyed so the tractors could drive into the street, NRC writes. A slurry tanker was also emptied in the street.

Police officers were unable to immediately intervene as they had to choose for their own safety in the threatening situation, the Gelderland police later informed ANP news agency. The police speak of “an imminent and unacceptable situation”.

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Farmers also protested in the Netherlands’ political capital The Hague, where two cows were brought to join in the protests. Prime Minister Mark Rutte called the actions “unacceptable and out of proportion”.

‘This has to stop’

Rutte has strongly condemned the action at the home of Minister van der Wal, saying “this small group really goes beyond all boundaries” which is “bad for the cause they stand for”. Van der Wal and her family are “obviously very shocked”, he said.

Rutte was called upon to return to the Netherlands because of the disturbances, but he said he cannot leave the ongoing NATO summit.

Minister of Finance and Deputy Prime Minister Sigrid Kaag also expressed her disgust: “This rioting to get your way has nothing to do with demonstrating in any way. This has to stop.”

Popular in the polls

While the actions may be condemned by politicians, the majority of Dutch citizens seem to side with the farmers, as the Farmer-Citizen Movement (BBB) is currently ranking high in the country’s political polls.

Out of 150 seats in total, the party is now polled at 18 seats, making it the second-largest party and merely a few seats smaller than Rutte’s ruling VVD.

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