Minister Christianne van der Wal (Nature and Nitrogen, VVD) is still right behind her nitrogen plans: for the whole of the Netherlands, nitrogen emissions must be 50 percent less by 2030. “For years, we asked too much and went beyond the borders of what a country could carry. The balance between nature and economy has to go back,” she says in conversation with Nieuwsuur.
In 131 areas, emissions must be reduced by 70 percent. As a result, not all farmers can continue with their business as they are used to, and that leads to strong resistance on a daily basis. Van der Wal had partly calculated that protest. “The anger, despair and frustration. Because there is one central question: how does a farmer earn a living? The farmers I speak to actually all want less livestock, more balance with nature. That‘s the big task for the cabinet: how are we going to arrange that?”
Take a step
That is why the cabinet is looking at the entire chain in which all companies around the farm must take responsibility. “Also banks, which have to contribute and invest in new business operations, and the animal feed industry up to and including supermarkets. To help farmers with the change.”
She understands the frustration of farmers, but the current system is really up, says Van der Wal. “We need to restore nature, because if you don’t, you won‘t be able to grant permits for housing, but also not to farmers themselves. And despite the fact that the farmers have already done a lot when it comes to reducing nitrogen emissions, it is not enough. So we have to take that step together.”
In 2019, Mark Rutte once called it the biggest crisis in his career as prime minister: the nitrogen crisis. And now, three years later, the nitrogen problem is still just as big. Van der Wal is the one who has to solve that.
For example, European agreements have been made “that we do not let nature reserves deteriorate. And we just haven’t been sticking to those agreements structurally for twenty or thirty years. But a deal is a deal. And so there is no other choice,” says Van der Wal. “And now I‘m the one who has to deliver the bad message.”
In that regard, she is surprised that there are people who continue to deny the problem. “These are the same people who say ‘travel to Brussels again and have a chat again if there is no other way. ‘ That’s what I call the route of false hope,” says Van der Wal, who does not want to belong to a generation that “has definitely squandered nature”.
The cabinet is allocating nearly 25 billion to help farmers. That money goes to buyout schemes, sustainability and nature. Van der Wal calls the enormous amount “fair”. “Together, we have maintained and nurtured this system for decades. We granted the permits. And there are a lot of farmers who have made huge investments. So we are going to help farmers to find a new way of doing business. That‘s justice.”
Still, the farmers feel the new plans like a slap in the face. “If you are used to being a farmer from generation to generation to a certain way that just gets to hear: here and no further and it has to go to a new agricultural system. That causes a lot of concern,” says the minister.
“Farmers say it looks like they’re not getting any more recognition. At the same time, I think that our farmers and the agricultural sector can once again be at the forefront of the world, and be a leader in a new agricultural system.”