Farmers protest: Massive tractor convoy to head to Brussels next Friday

Farmers protest: Massive tractor convoy to head to Brussels next Friday
Farmers protest in December 2014. Credit: Belga/Thierry Roge

A massive tractor convoy of at least 1,000 farmers from all over Flanders will head to Brussels on Friday 3 March to take action against the Flemish Government's agricultural policy, several farming organisations announced on Thursday.

Agricultural and horticulturalists – backed by the Boerenbond, ABS, Groene Kring, Jong ABS and Ferm for Agro Women associations – are sounding the alarm, as the nitrogen agreement as it stands is causing a "socio-economic bloodbath" in the agricultural sector.

"The ambition is to take to the streets and drive to Brussels with over 1,000 tractors," Hendrik Vandamme, president of the General Farmers' Syndicate, told Belga News Agency. "We have the impression that political games are being played, and the farmers are paying the price."

The farmers are demanding a thorough readjustment of the nitrogen agreement and calling for the immediate adoption of the Flemish Common Agricultural Policy. As long as there is no clarity on the rules set out in that policy, farmers cannot start their field operations and crops. Therefore, urgent decisions are needed, said Vandamme.

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Last year, the Flemish Government struck a deal on limiting nitrogen emissions. Following public consultation, the deal has to be tweaked before it can be formally agreed on, but the different parties cannot seem to find an agreement.

The biggest disagreement is over the differing rules for agriculture and industry. For the latter, the maximum nitrogen threshold to get a permit is 40 times less strict – which the Flemish Christian-Democrats (CD&V) do not agree with. The other two parties (rightwing N-VA and liberal Open VLD) fear that CD&V leader Sammy Mahdi wants to position himself as being central to the issue.

"On the ground, we feel great discontent, particularly about the nitrogen agreement. Farmers want to take to the streets en masse," said Vandamme, adding that more practical information about the demonstration will follow in the coming days.

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