In late November, the Dutch government set aside approximately $25 billion to begin buying farmland, whether the owners want to sell or not. “There is no better offer coming,” Dutch Nitrogen Minister Christianne van der Waal told farmers. The government expects to purchase between 2000 and 3000 farms.
Government leaders claim that the radical restructuring of Dutch farming is necessary for the good of the environment. However, facts suggest that this has little to do with the environment and much to do with centralizing power.
Arguments over farming regulations in the Netherlands have been raging for some time now.
In October 2019, the Raad von State (the Netherlands’ equivalent of the Supreme Court) ruled that the country’s previous system for regulating nitrogen emissions did not comply with EU regulations. Dutch politicians stated that the nation should withdraw permission for farmers to emit nitrogen, suggesting that Dutch farmers reduce their livestock numbers by half.
Of course, this was not popular. Farmers have bills to pay just like the rest of us, and telling a business owner that they have to cut production in half usually means the end of the business. Not surprisingly, Dutch farmers started protesting, causing more than 600 miles of traffic jams by clogging highways with their tractors.
Despite these loud protestations, the Dutch government has been plowing ahead.
While mainstream media has been keeping the storyline simple, that farmers refuse to see the big picture in terms of climate change, the reality is that Dutch farms have already reduced their nitrogen emissions by more than half over the past 30 years. Dutch farmers have proved themselves reasonable and willing to comply with achievable goals. However, the insistence by the EU that member nations reduce their nitrogen emissions by half again within seven years, by 2030, is a fantasy.
Advocates of the forced emissions reductions don’t see why these huge changes in rules for farmers seem so catastrophic. They seem to believe that current, conventional farms in the Netherlands can be forced into functional regenerative organic farms overnight. Now, I’m a big fan of organic, but I’m also a fan of reality. Anyone who wants to have an informed opinion of different agricultural options needs to listen to the farmers who actually manage the diverse regenerative farms that these armchair environmentalists at The Hague want to push everyone into.
What do the actual experts have to say?
Will Harris, who has been managing White Oak Pastures for decades, just gave a fantastic interview with Joe Rogan about what it takes to convert a conventional farm to a profitable organic one. It’s great, he loves it, but it was a labor of love that occurred over a large course of his lifetime.
Likewise, Joel Salatin, who has been managing Polyface Farm for decades, has written numerous books about his family’s experience converting their property with its denuded soil to a profitable farm. These farmers know what EU bureaucrats are asking of the Dutch farmers because they have actually done it. And they know that it takes decades to build the soil that makes regenerative agriculture possible.
It’s also worth noting that both Will Harris and Joel Salatin own their land. They have taxes but not mortgages. They also live in areas with abundant water. Out where I am, water can be a make-or-break scenario for farmers. I admire these men, who have done so much to publicize regenerative agriculture. I find them inspiring. But they’ve got advantages many would-be farmers don’t. It needs to be kept in mind that farming is like any other industry in that each location has its quirks and that top-down “solutions” mandated by far-off government agencies can rarely accommodate the diversity of issues farmers on the ground actually encounter.
(Looking to learn how to store the food you grow? Check out our free QUICKSTART Guide to home canning.)
Nitrogen emissions are a problem.
Of course, people want their environments to be as clean as possible. But are other industries seeing the same draconian measures? Has any other industry in the Netherlands been asked to cut its output by half?
The transportation and construction industries in the Netherlands are facing a slew of new regulations. Many construction projects are being delayed. Construction companies will all have to update their equipment, and airports will be expected to electrify more, and more of their facilities. The transportation and construction industries are receiving subsidies to help comply with the new regulations, but there is still a great deal of disruption.
No one seems to address the wastefulness of scrapping tons of perfectly good, usable equipment. How this is supposed to be better for the environment is beyond me. I’m also not sure how importing large amounts of food from much farther away, probably using lots of fossil fuels in the transportation process, is supposed to be more environmentally friendly, either.
And, understandably, many in the Dutch business community are intensely frustrated by their government’s emissions mandates. In fact, almost one in four Dutch companies are planning to move abroad, according to a recent survey by the Amsterdam Centre for Business Innovation.
But farmers can’t just pick up and move.
Well, they can, but for a farmer to move is an act of desperation. It’s far more traumatic than renting a new office space in a new city. For farming families that have been on the same land for generations, their land is a part of their identity in a way that’s totally unique. Many Dutch farm families have been on their land for hundreds of years. For a farmer whose family held onto its lands during the German occupation in World War II, only to be forcibly bought out by his own government, is a kind of betrayal not comparable to anything else.
I see two reasons for the hammer to fall so hard on the Dutch farmers. The first is this attachment to the land. Farmers have always been known as an ornery bunch. Many of the efforts to “nudge” the behavior of first-world citizens hinge on the fact that the majority of the populations of these countries are strongly motivated by convenience and creature comforts. Not so with farmers.
I have run a small side operation selling pastured chickens. I have a lot of farmer friends. The farming lifestyle means you’re willing to head to the barns in a snowstorm or hurricane to check on animals in the middle of the night; willing to work outdoors in all kinds of weather because if it’s harvest time, it’s harvest time; and willing to get covered in animal feces because if you have livestock, it’s just going to happen at some point. I know this from experience. These people are not easy to push around.
But if there’s one thing bureaucrats like to do, it’s to push people around.
And the second reason I believe the Dutch farmers are being so singled out is precisely because they are so efficient and successful. Their failure will cause Europe to become far more dependent on food outside the continent. The Netherlands is the world’s second-largest food exporter, but if these farm buyouts go through, that’s going to change.
Europe will become dramatically more dependent on foreign food supplies. The longer a nation’s supply chain, the more things can go wrong; the more middlemen looking to get their slice of the pie. This will end in less choice and less quality for the people of Europe. A group of people dependent on outsiders for its food supply is in no position to argue with any kind of mandates, no matter how ridiculous.
Totalitarian leaders have known for a long time that the key to breaking a culture is to break the farmers. In Anne Applebaum’s book Red Famine, the author discusses the deliberate destruction of the Ukrainian peasant class by the Soviet Union. They systematically starved millions of peasants to death, then resettled the abandoned lands with either Russian farmers or other displaced ethnic minorities within the Soviet Union.
The Soviet Union may be gone, but lovers of central planning are still with us.
They don’t really try to hide it. Just head to the World Economic Forum’s website, watch some of their videos, and read some of their articles for yourself. I feel like the “You Will Own Nothing” article has been beaten to death, but it’s worth taking the time to really understand. Read the article, and picture the “outsiders” in your mind. They sound a lot like farmers.
Despite three years of on-again, off-again protests, Dutch government officials are proceeding as planned, getting ready to begin forcing farm closures. But the farmers haven’t given up. A new political party has been formed within the Netherlands, the Farmer-Citizen Movement (BBB), hoping they can move through official channels to prevent forced closures.
The leader of the new party, Caroline van der Plas, compares the problems in farming with the problems with vehicles. “So if we need to reduce CO2, nitrogen, ammonia, let farmers here come up with innovations to make production cleaner. That’s what we did with the car industry: we didn’t end up with fewer cars, but the cars we have are cleaner.”
It’s important to look at history and confirm that the collectivization of agriculture has never worked and generally leads to mass starvation.
I sincerely hope that the Dutch can find a peaceful solution that does not involve destabilizing Europe’s food supply.
With high food price inflation in most high-income countries and increasing food insecurity in low-income countries, any plans that involve knowingly decreasing agricultural output are currently indefensible.
The Dutch farm protesters, who really have been mostly peaceful despite their extreme provocation, deserve support in their effort to continue in their vocation, one of the oldest vocations on earth.
For those of us outside the Netherlands, we need to think about the farmers in our own lives. If you don’t know where your food comes from, find out. Food is pretty important, and if we aren’t producing much ourselves, we need to learn about and appreciate the issues faced by the people that do. The Netherlands is a tiny country with a huge footprint in terms of global food production. If the farm seizures go through, it will affect us all.
What are your thoughts?
Do you think the Dutch government will follow through with taking over the farms? What do you think about the regulations that are being created? Do you think this is really about the environment? And finally, could you foresee such a thing happening here?