Netherlands to buy up and close down 3,000 farms to comply with EU rules

Photo: Pierre Crom/Getty Images

The Dutch government has plans to purchase and shut down up to 3,000 farms near environmentally sensitive areas in order to fall in line with EU nature preservation rules.

The Netherlands is attempting to reduce nitrogen pollution and will pursue compulsory purchases if an insufficient number of farms reject the offer voluntarily.

Farmers will be proposed a deal “well over” the value of the farm, according to the government plan that intends to shut down 2,000 to 3,000 farms or other businesses perceived as major polluters.

Some of the initial plans had been leaked and revealed the offer to stand at 120 per cent of the farm’s value. However that has yet to be confirmed..

Christianne van der Wal, nitrogen minister, told MPs on Friday: “There is no better offer coming”. She said compulsory purchases would be made with “pain in the heart”, if necessary.

Biodiversity threatened

The Netherlands has been required by the EU to bring down its emissions to comply with EU conservation rules. Just under half the nitrogen emitted is supposedly down to agriculture. The Dutch environment agency has warned that native species are disappearing faster in the Netherlands than in the rest of Europe and that biodiversity is under threat. But the new plan looks set to reignite tensions over nitrogen reduction in what is a proud farming nation.

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Farmers targeted in favour of big business

Dutch farmers have staged mass protests, burnt hay bales, dumped manure on highways and picketed ministers' houses over the last three years.

Many Dutch farmers have expressed anger at the fact that the same nitrogen cuts proposed in the name of fighting climate change will not be applied to the airline industry or various other big businesses.

In 2019 a ruling by the Dutch Council of State meant every new activity that emits nitrogen, including farming and building, needs a permit.

That has prevented the expansion of dairy, pig and poultry farms, which are major sources of nitrogen from ammonia in manure mixed with urine. This can be harmful for nature when it washes into rivers and the sea.

Farmers fear that the plan to slash emissions by 2030 will cost them their livelihoods, oppose any compulsory purchases and argue farming is unfairly targeted while other sectors such as aviation, are not.

“Restrictions without perspective”

Farmers’ lobby group LTO Nederland said trust in the government “has been very low for a long time”. They have accused the Government of drafting “restrictions without perspective”.

Sjaak van der Tak, chairman of LTO, said: “Of course it is positive that a good voluntary stop scheme is being promised. But the stayers who are central to us will have many additional restrictions imposed.”

Agractie, another farmers’ organisation, said the voluntary closure scheme was acceptable but the threat of compulsory purchase was certainly not.

Ministers will decide if enough farms have come forward voluntarily to close in the autumn. They say the plan will help biodiversity recover, building could resume and farms without proper nitrogen permits could be legalised.

The voluntary buyout scheme was “the only way to finally create opportunities for the construction of homes, the construction of new infrastructure and for projects to make the Netherlands more sustainable in the shortest possible time,” said Ingrid Thijssen, chairman of VNO-NCW, an employers’ federation in the Netherlands.

With net migration over the last two years standing at an average of 4.2 percent in the Netherlands, the supposed necessity for more homes and infrastructure is not one that needs to persist. Furthermore, some experts have commented that creating a sustainable country as swiftly as possible is not achieved by importing more people at that rate.