More than 4,000 farmers with tractors – twice what union organisers expected – took to Flemish roads on Wednesday to protest against Belgium’s lack of a clear nitrogen policy.
In Roeselare alone, there were over 1,000 tractors, which transformed the ring road into a tractor show around 2:00 PM and blocked traffic, according to the Flemish infocentre for agriculture and horticulture (VILT).
West Flanders, where Roeselare is located, is the largest agricultural province in Belgium.
“We want to send out a signal that the farmers are finally being listened to. The government is playing with the future of thousands of farms and families. We will not put up with it any longer,” Joris Vande Vyvere, regional president of the Boerenbond farmers union in West Flanders, told VILT.
“We have to find a solution to the uncertainty that we have been living in for a year now.”
— Boerenbond (@Boerenbond) December 2, 2021
Translation: Enjoying our tractors action with @GreenCircle and @SamenFerm all over Flanders! 4,000x thanks to the participants
A ruling made back in February put a stop to the granting of nitrogen permits in agriculture, which has a massive effect on farmers as nitrogen is an essential ingredient in fertilizers.
The Flemish Government promised a definitive nitrogen framework by the end of this year to give farmers clarity. “But we are now at the end of the year and one thing is certain: that nitrogen framework will not come in 2021,” said Vande Vyvere.
Farmer Ward Colman joined his parents’ mixed farm five years ago and questions that decision in light of the uncertain future. “If I were faced with the choice now, I don’t know whether I would have done it again,” he told VILT, saying he was interested in investing in emission-free stables, but has doubts.
“Who knows what policy is coming? Will I have to make additional investments and will they still be profitable? Decisions are being made for us, but we have to implement them.”
The protesting tractors clogging the ring roads around the cities of Roeselare, Ghent, Tienen, Geel and Hasselt also attracted attention from politicians, including MEP Tom Vandenkendelaere (CD&V).
“I came to hear the farmers’ grievances,” Vandenkendelaere told VILT. “Of course there is the nitrogen issue, but the problems are broader. Farmers no longer feel appreciated. Farmers, like other entrepreneurs, are entitled to business and entrepreneurial security.”
4000 tractoren op straat vanmiddag. Daaronder heel wat jonge boeren.
— Bram Van Hecke (@BVHecke) December 1, 2021
Translation: 4000 tractors on the street this afternoon. Among them many young farmers. We spoke loud and clear. Flemish Government, were you listening?