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Should Scotland’s Farmers be Afraid?

Dutch Farmers on the Warpath

             Dutch farmers feel like they are in a war against their own government.  In a nation which has 53,000 farms and smallholdings, permits to keep animals on your own land have been abruptly cancelled by the state, closing down farms and throwing farmers into financial turmoil. 

            A new political movement is taking up their cause.  The Farmer-Citizen Movement, BoerBurgerBeweging (BBB) recorded an astonishing recent victory which has made them the biggest party in the Dutch upper house, the Senate, taking 15 of the 75 seats with 20% of the vote on a slogan ‘No Farms, No Food’.  They have more seats than PM Mark Rutte’s conservative VVD party.

            The victory is a rejection of the government’s environmental policies which aim to slash nitrogen emissions by drastically cutting livestock numbers, as well as a rejection of the EU’s and Netherlands’ net-zero demands, sometimes called ‘obsession’. The BBB is promising to seize power back from the net-zero ‘elite’ in favour of a farming community suffering huge financial setbacks in the government climate change fight. They were successful not only in rural areas, but also in Amsterdam and The Hague.

          Dutch farmers have been protesting for months, blocking highways with as many as 10,000 tractors, spraying manure at government offices, and throwing flaming rubbish onto roads and demonstrating in cities, claiming that green measures are deliberately aimed at ending the Netherlands’ ability to feed itself.  Farmers feel an absolute hatred from their own government.

            With 17 million people, the Netherlands is second only to the US in exporting farm produce. Their farms are clean, efficient and sustainable. They say the aim of reducing nitrogen oxide and ammonia pollution by 50% by 2030 means their herds would need to reduce by one third, increasing prices and forcing them out of business.  The BBB is not anti-climate, but feels the government is going too far and will make the country unable to feed itself.  It is trying to wrest back control for ordinary people who feel increasingly powerless.            

Let Them Eat Insects

            Renowned agricultural innovation hub, Wageningen University is investigating the possibility of using insects as food for humans and animals.  Insects-as-food is apparently endorsed by the World Economic Forum at Davos, Switzerland.  The university claims insects can provide an economically viable, ‘interesting’ solution to the world food problem, and that farming insects causes 100 times less greenhouse gas emissions than pigs and cattle.

The Netherlands and the EU

            The Netherlands has embraced the idea of ‘Nature 2000’ reserves enthusiastically, wanting so-called polluting farms in these areas shut down.  The government is planning thousands of closures by 2030, with 17,000 farmers ordered to reduce livestock production.  Farms in the vicinity of these reserves are particularly vulnerable and cannot get bank loans even now.

            The Dutch government releases lists of farms facing closure, offering compensation from a £22bn government fund, and will compulsorily purchase if needed.  They will be barred from ever being ‘animal keepers’ in the country again, and will ultimately be evicted if needed.  Permits are required in order to operate farms and if farmers continue without a permit, they are breaking the law.  Farms cannot get bank loans without a permit, depreciating their value on the market which has led to sales at knock-down prices, emigration, bankruptcy and even suicide.  Farming lobby group Land en Tuinbouw Organisatie states that suicide rates were up by 37% in 2020 than the average for the previous seven years. 


            It is not just the Netherlands. In Belgium, Flemish farmers blockaded central Brussels in February with 2,700 tractors to protest against an EU-backed plan to limit emissions. 


            Scottish Green co-leader Patrick Harvie is warning Scottish famers they need to make ‘even bigger emission cuts to make up for the wasted years’, exacerbating the problems farmers are facing in covid recovery and Brexit barriers.  But Martin Kennedy, president of NFU Scotland, says enough is enough, saying Scotland already has some of the highest ecological standards to be found anywhere and is committed to net-zero for agriculture by 2040, but government support for the industry going forward is not as yet clear.


Julia Pannell


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