Farmers protest against bad press

Edition 31 October, by Stephen Swai

Hundreds of farmersdrove to The Hague by tractor to protest against what they called unfair treatment by the government, that has presented a negative picture of them as “animal abusers and environment polluters”.

The reason for the protest

This came on the heels of the Remkes Commission’s advice to halve the number of livestock in order to reduce nitrogen emissions. The Commission also advised measures to address the problem presented by farms using outdated ways of working, thus causing pollution in the vicinity of protected nature reserves.

Many farmers disagreed with the Remkes Commission. Sheep farmer and one of the organizers of the protest Bart Kemp said that the big problem with politicians was their “blame the farmers for everything” mentality. He cited the recent statements from D66 MP Tjeerd de Groot, who advised halving the number of livestock.

Modus operandi

The idea to use tractors started as a “playful call” but ended up being an actual plan for the demonstration, involving thousands of people. Farmers from Drenthe planned to drive slowly from Pesse to Zwolle. “We are going to drive slowly, 40 km/h to Zwolle. If the news coverage from The Hague is positive, we will stop there, but as soon as we hear negative reports, we will continue our peaceful journey,” said the organizers.

Authority and police response

Mayor of The Hague Pauline Krikke had permitted the farmers to come to the Malieveld with 75 tractors. However, the farmers felt that the number was too low. “75 tractors are far too few. We hope to put pressure on the government, so that we can achieve something.”

The police was prepared to steer everything in the right direction and said that it would not turn a blind eye if farmers would drive slowly on the A28. “We respect that they want to demonstrate,” said the police spokesperson. “But that should not be at the expense of the safety of others and themselves. This creates a dangerous situation.” The police said that if the protesters would continue with their plan, they would take them off the road.

Demonstration day – situation tense in The Hague

Minister of Agriculture Carola Schouten had planned to attend the demonstration on the Malieveld and wanted to talk to the farmers. MPs, including Jacco Geurts (CDA) and Tjeerd de Groot (D66), were also planning to come.

On the day, middle fingers and boos erupted when De Groot took the floor. Others turned their backs on the MP. “I understand why they are angry,” De Groot said. “It is good that the farmers have come to The Hague,” he added. Jesse Klaver of GroenLinks was also scolded by the farmers and had to make an effort to make himself understood between all the whistling. “Tackling climate change and nitrogen is not just about the agricultural sector. You can turn your back on me, raise the middle finger and totally disagree with me, but I will always continue to fight for an agricultural sector that does work,” he said.

To calm the situation, Schouten said, “The Netherlands cannot ignore you. I am here to listen to you. There needs to be more appreciation for the work of farmers because you ensure that food reaches our plates every day.”

Farmers’ sentiments

The farmers felt that the biggest problem was access to funds for improvement and innovation of outdated farms. “I don’t have the money. I have 85 dairy cows and costs are 4000 euros per cow. I don’t have that financing. I’m stuck,” said 34-year old Franciska van de Kamp. “Inform yourselves about farming life before you make policies,” she advised.

There was also a problem with how this type of investment would affect final consumers. Jan Dirk Bierema, a poultry and arable farmer from Groningen, said, “I would like to invest, but it is a large investment that the consumer ultimately wouldn’t want to pay for. I want to earn back that investment.”

Furthermore, there are issues regarding the organic market. “It is always said that people want more organic products, but we are not actually seeing market growth because consumers end up choosing the cheapest products in the supermarkets,” said Egbertjan Hilbrands, an organic dairy farmer.

The protest attracted 22-year-old Esra Mienema, a nurse in training at Nordwin College in Leeuwarden. She has a part-time job at a dairy farm and went to the protest with her friend. “We mainly come for the atmosphere. It is actually one big farmer’s party,” she said.

In attendance was also a couple from IJsselstein. They expressed dissatisfaction with the ever-changing rules. “The people in The Hague know nothing about our company. They constantly tell us what to do. We want to think about the consumer and the environment, but this way we cannot manage our business.”

Dutch support

90 per cent of the Dutch population supports the farmers’ protest, according to a survey conducted among 2,700 respondents. “We should be prouder of our farmers and they should be protected more,” said Dutch pollster Maurice de Hond.