Dutch farmers’ protests against government climate plans have caused a stir at home and abroad, with populists worldwide lending their support.
“We take all the support that we can get,” says Jaap Kok, a 62-year-old cattle farmer standing in a meadow full of cows near Barneveld in the central Netherlands’ farming belt.
The farmers have wreaked havoc for weeks, dumping manure and garbage on highways, blockading supermarket warehouses with tractors and rallying noisily outside politicians’ houses.
They oppose plans to cut emissions of nitrogen in the Netherlands — the world’s second-biggest agricultural exporter after the US — by reducing livestock and closing some farms.
While a small group has been blamed for much of the unrest, there have also been large protests involving thousands of tractors.
With the protests garnering global headlines, politicians and others have been quick to voice support.
France’s Marine le Pen, and Dutch politicians Geert Wilders and Thierry Baudet have backed the farmers.
“I would have preferred that the support came from the left, but from the right is fine too,” said Kok, whose own farm risks closure. “Farmers are always the scapegoat.”
The Netherlands produces huge amounts of food thanks to industrialized farming, but at the cost of being one of Europe’s largest greenhouse gas emitters.
That is especially true of nitrogen, with much of this blamed on ammonia-based fertilizer and cattle-produced manure. Agriculture is responsible for 16 percent of all Dutch emissions.
Nitrogen-containing substances are blamed for damage to plant and animal habitats, as well as causing climate change.
Following a 2019 court ruling that the Netherlands was not doing enough to protect its natural areas from nitrogen pollution, the Dutch government said in June that the only way to meet climate goals by 2030 was “radical” cuts to farming.
This would involve a reduction in particular of about 30 percent to the Netherlands’ herd of about 4 million cows.
The government has offered about 25 billion euros (US$25.5 billion) to help farmers adapt, but has also warned that some closures are possible.
“The farmers are very angry,” said Jos Ubels, vice president of the Farmers Defence Force, one of the groups coordinating the demonstrations. “In history, every time there is a problem with a minority, they have to shout really hard to be heard, so this is what we are doing.”
Ubels said that his group was not responsible for the roadblocks, saying that it was “just organized by local farmers — they are very angry because they are played with.”
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte recently called the protests “life-threatening,” yet there is a groundswell of support.
Upside down Dutch flags — a symbol of the farmers’ movement — can be see hanging from many houses, lamposts and bridges.
The Farmer-Citizen Movement, a party founded in 2019, would increase its current one seat in parliament to 19 according to latest opinion polls.
Their campaign is also going global.
Ubels was in Warsaw last week for talks with Polish Minister of Agriculture Henryk Kowalczyk.
“I will support the position of Dutch farmers in maintaining production ... and I hope that their government will change its mind,” Kowalczyk said in a statement.
Backing from former US president Donald Trump has also been a boost, farmers said.
“Farmers in the Netherlands of all places are courageously opposing the climate tyranny of the Dutch government,” Trump told a rally in Florida last month.
In the Netherlands, a protest in Amsterdam last month prompted others to share the farmers’ views online.
British commentator Russell Brand said on his YouTube show last month that the Dutch farm plan was part of the “great reset.”
“The objective isn’t to get the farmers to behave in an organic, responsible, ecologically apposite manner. No, far from it. It’s in order to bankrupt the farmers so that their land can be grabbed,” Brand said.
The support “says a lot” and shows that the government’s “absurd” plans “don’t hold water,” said Wim Brouwer, a farmer in Barneveld and local president of the main Dutch agricultural union LTO.
Brouwer said that farmers must do more to cut emissions, but their sacrifices already far exceeded those made by the industrial and transport sectors.
“The biggest problem is that we have been innovating in agriculture for years, but it’s never enough,” he said.
Additional reporting by staff writer
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