"That's what you get," farmers' group says about new protests; Won't talk to gov't
“That’s what you get when you make people so very angry,” said secretary Sieta van Keimpema of the Farmers Defense Force (FDF) action group about the new farmers’ protests along the highways. “You shouldn’t be surprised. Everyone would do this if they were chased from their land and home.” She was responding to criticism from the public works department Rijkswaterstaat, which warned that this method of protesting could cause dangerous situations.
Farmers set fire to hay bales and blocked on-ramps with mounds of soil on Wednesday. “As long as the government sticks to the current goals, you will get this kind of situation,” said Van Keimpema about the government’s nitrogen policy. “30,000 companies are affected by this. People can’t sleep anymore. There are suicides among farmers who can’t anymore,” said the board member of FDF.
No recent figures for the number of suicides among farmers are available, so it is impossible to verify whether this statement is correct. According to calculations by the Ministry of Finance, nearly 30,000 farmers could be affected by the nitrogen plans. It calculated that 11,200 companies would have to close and 17,600 farmers would have to reduce their livestock to reduce nitrogen emissions to a level in which nature can recover.
That farmers have to leave their homes is not part of Minister Christianne van der Wal’s policy. The plans released so far only state that nitrogen emissions around nature reserves must be drastically reduced. The provinces have yet to work out how to achieve that. But Van Keimpema is not reassured. According to her, the government ultimately wants to acquire land to build housing.
FDF says it does not play a role in these protests. “Local trigger groups organize these kinds of actions themselves.” Argactie chairman Bart Kemp also said that he was unaware of it.
Farmers’ organizations also said that they don’t want to talk to Johan Remkes, the negotiator the Cabinet appointed to act as a mediator between the government and farmers. The Netherlands Agricultural and Horticultural Organization (LTO) said it would not respond to the nitrogen mediator’s invitation until the Cabinet “promises that serious discussions can take place about the goal, timeline, and implementation of measures.” FDF and Argactie said that Remkes has too little room for negotiation.
The LTO said it hopes for more attention to agriculture’s perspective. The organization wants more room for innovation and does not want the government to lay down in law the limit at which nature is affected by nitrogen precipitation. LTO is also reluctant because one or more members of the Cabinet often join the discussions.
FDF said it would likely only talk to the nitrogen mediator if the Cabinet abandons certain nitrogen targets. “Otherwise, we will stick to our position, and we will not leave the trenches,” said chairman Mark van den Oever. The organization is still raising the issue with its members. After that, FDF will officially decide whether they will talk to Remkes. “But for the time being, 99 percent of our members say we shouldn’t start a conversation.” Argactie is also dismissive.
On Tuesday, Remkes invited the farmers’ organizations to talk. In his letter, Remkes expressed great appreciation for the agricultural sector. “A lot has hit the farm in recent years. Government and politics have not always been the parties that farmers could rely on, especially because the hot mess has gone too far.”
The Cabinet appointed Remkes to steer the discussions about the nitrogen policy in the right direction. His appointment did not sit well with the farmers’ organizations, who see him as one of the architects of the current nitrogen plans. He led a committee that advised the previous government to set strict targets to reduce nitrogen emissions.
Remkes hopes the government and farmers can get out of this impasse together.
Reporting by ANP