In the Netherlands, a drastic plan to cut back on nitrogen angers farmers

“The Netherlands today is a volcano ready to erupt.” Walter Justin does not hide his dissatisfaction. This cow farm is a pillar of the Farmers Defense Force in the province of Limburg in the southeast of the Netherlands. An organization that campaigned for several weeks. “We are ready for a long-term battle with the government”he adds.

The Dutch agricultural scientist is in turmoil. Snail processes on the main axes are increasing. Supermarket bans are regulated. The protests escalated. And in the province of Friesland, police fired two shots at a tractor, according to police statements, which was heading towards their battalion. Even the municipalities of Apeldoorn and Harderwijk declared a state of emergency at the beginning of July.

The unrest has been at its height since the Dutch government, led by liberal Mark Root, unveiled its “Nitrogen Plan” on June 10. The goal is ambitious: to reduce nitrogen emissions by 50% by 2030. The government has issued a budget of 24.3 billion euros for this. All polluting sectors will have to participate in this effort. Industries and transportation, which are responsible for the emissions of nitrogen oxides that pollute the air and then settle on the ground, must contribute.

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Soil full of nitrogen pollutants

As for the agricultural sector, where nitrogen fertilizers and livestock waste are the source of 46% of emissions – from nitrous oxide, ammonia or nitrates – it is particularly on the horizon, as Dutch soil is littered with these pollutants that destroy biodiversity and pose a threat to human health. He was even the only one entitled to publish a highly accurate quantitative map, on June 10, of nitrogen emission reduction targets according to the most polluted geographic areas, when such a level of detail does not exist for industry or transportation. According to Jan Willem Erisman, a professor at the Institute of Environmental Sciences at Leiden University, who welcomes the core of the government’s plan, this way of presenting things “Creating a lot of frustration among farmers who feel they have to make every effort, when the problem is bigger”.

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The efforts to be made will vary by region depending on the levels of pollution and the regions involved. Thus, emissions reductions will be between 12% and 70%, with an exceptional peak of up to 95%, when the nitrogen emitting economic activity is located in the Natura 2000 Conservation Area. It will have to develop concrete action plans in consultation to submit to the government, before July 2023, for approval before release aid.

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