5 questionsFew gave it another chance. Nevertheless, there is still the prospect of an Agricultural Agreement between the cabinet and farmers’ organisations. Why is reaching an agreement so important?
What was the gain after the new summit meeting between Prime Minister Mark Rutte, five of his ministers and the board of LTO Netherlands earlier this week? “Confidence has increased further,” said the prime minister. LTO chairman Sjaak van der Tak, in turn, spoke of ‘crucial steps’, without becoming substantive. Yet this is about something essential: our food, our nature and the organization of the Netherlands.
1. Why does an Agriculture Agreement affect me as a citizen?
It is only a year ago that 60,000 farmers and rural people, together with about 20,000 tractors, moved to the Gelderland town of Stroe. It was the largest farmer’s protest in a hot summer filled with roadblocks, roadside fires and even a police bullet that hit the cab of a tractor. The misunderstanding and distrust between the agricultural sector and the government ran deep. The conclusion of an agricultural agreement should take the sting out of that conflict. That would be a win-win for every citizen.
In addition, this is about the food that every Dutch person consumes every day. What about the sustainability of those dairy products, vegetables and meat? Do farmers take enough account of nature, biodiversity and groundwater? An agreement on the protection of those values, and a compensation for this for the farmer, therefore affects not only everyone’s plate, but also our immediate living environment. And most Dutch people like it when cows stay in the pasture.’
The farmers will have a lot to choose from in the coming years, here it is (video):
2. Why is this agreement so important?
The government has two major tasks with regard to nature and agriculture. Firstly, something must finally be done about the deterioration of vulnerable nature due to excessive nitrogen emissions. That can also help to unlock the Netherlands again, so that construction can start again. To this end, Minister Christianne van der Wal (Strogen) opened her purchase scheme for peak loaders on Monday. But clearing the rubble alone will not get the cabinet there. Those who stay in the sector need perspective: how can they earn a living with fewer animals in the coming decades?
Nitrogen mediator Johan Remkes subtly noted in October that ‘years of ‘faltering government policy’ have put the Netherlands on lockdown. At the same time, he was shocked by the desperation of farmers. According to Remkes, not only was a quick buy-out of peak loaders necessary, but also a restoration of confidence. The conclusion of that Agricultural Agreement should regain that confidence. Not only farmers want this, the government party CDA also attaches great importance to it.
3. Why is reaching an agreement so difficult?
Change hurts. Some of the farmers may have to stop, but don’t want to. It ensured that radical farmers’ organizations walked away or did not even join the consultation. It makes the position of LTO chairman Sjaak van der Tak difficult. Because how far can he go without losing his supporters? The once powerful farmer’s lobby is highly fragmented. It is not for nothing that Van der Tak in the AD issued a profit warning. His message: cabinet, do not demand too much, because then an agreement is ‘an illusion’.
But it is not easy within the cabinet either. CDA and ChristenUnie want to accommodate farmers more than VVD and D66. The predecessor of Agriculture Minister Piet Adema, Henk Staghouwer, has already gritted his teeth on giving the farming sector prospects for the future. The question is what the cabinet will come up with next week.
4. What is the biggest obstacle in the negotiations?
The main point of contention is: how many cows will be allowed on one hectare? More cows mean more income, but also more impact on the environment. The government – although it now seems to want to accommodate farmers to some extent – wants a standard for a maximum number of animals per hectare. LTO absolutely does not want this. A large part of the constituency, especially in the southern provinces, is also against this. According to Henk Bleker, chairman of the Dutch Dairy Farmers Union (NMV), who has already resigned, the cabinet’s demand is causing suspicion. “We asked earlier during the consultation for which of the environmental and nature objectives such a standard would be necessary: there was no good answer.” Farmers fear that the cabinet only wants the standard as a knob to turn, thus reducing the number of livestock and call it ‘a silent killer for dairy cattle’.
5. If the negotiations still collapse, will we get farmers’ protests again?
Tractors on the highway again: no one is waiting for that. The failure of the Agricultural Agreement does not necessarily lead to protests. But it does mean the failure of the polder model. And a failed attempt to restore trust. As soon as the government tries to resolve the sore points from the negotiations itself through bills, the chance of farmers’ protests is considerable. For example, if Minister Adema submits a bill for a maximum standard for the number of animals. Bleker: “The cabinet is playing with fire. This would lead to a tough confrontation.”
Join the conversation.
You can respond at the bottom of this article. Only respectful comments with a full name will be posted. We do that because we want a conversation with people who stand by what they say, and therefore put their name to it. Those who still need to enter their name can do so by clicking ‘Login’ at the top right of our site.
Next week, the cabinet and the farmers will have the final talks, and then it’s ‘hom or kuit’ (video):
Check out our most viewed news videos in the playlist below:
Free unlimited access to Showbytes? Which can!
Log in or create an account and don’t miss a thing of the stars.