There must be a new government policy for farmers who want to make their farms greener in the years to come. For example, there must be more requirements applied to individual businesses in the field of nature and the environment, which governments must then strictly enforce. At the same time, politicians must give farmers more freedom to determine how they want to meet these demands. This is what the Living Environment and Infrastructure Council (Rli) advised on Thursday to outgoing Minister Carola Schouten (Agriculture, ChristenUnie).
According to the Rli, an independent advisory body to the government and parliament, the cabinet is paying too much attention to farmers who either voluntarily or involuntarily shut down. Behind the scenes, the constituent parties are talking, for example, of an investment fund containing tens of billions of euros. This money is intended, among other things, to relocate or buy back farmers who emit too much nitrogen in vulnerable natural areas. In this way, emissions must be reduced to make room for new construction projects.
The agricultural sector is responsible for a large part of the nitrogen emissions in the Netherlands. A new cabinet that will be formed will most likely propose measures to reduce this share. Recently it appeared a survey carried out by I&O Research of just under a thousand farmers, just under 40 percent are ready to negotiate with the government to reduce herds for a buyout deal. Around 61 percent of those surveyed, mostly young entrepreneurs, say they want to continue their activity in any case.
No clear guidelines
Farmers, according to the Rli, believe government policy should focus more on the group that wants to continue operating, but does not know how. The researchers recently spoke to farmers, pig ranchers, fruit growers and dairy producers from different walks of life, among others.
According to contractors, there is a lack of clear guidelines for investing time to meet future sustainability requirements. In their opinion, the current policy is too inconsistent. In addition, the permit system has been put in place in such a way that farmers do not have the freedom to determine for themselves what to do to comply with environmental rules and regulations with their business.
Also read this article: For more money, the farmer would like to become “greener”
In September, it was announced that the ministries of agriculture and finance had for months been making an inventory of what is needed to make the agricultural sector so sustainable that nitrogen emissions are reduced. Different scenarios have been calculated for this. For example, the purchase of production rights from nitrogen-emitting farmers was examined. Another, more drastic option is for the government itself to buy the land from contractors and then make it more environmentally friendly.
The latter can engender resentment among farmers who wish to continue to be independent. They believe that the government underlines their insufficient prospects for greening and innovation. The Rli therefore advises the national, provincial and local government to set company-specific sustainability standards, but to give farmers themselves the freedom to determine how they can meet them.
The Ministry of Agriculture is currently working on an alternative to the per hectare payment system, through which farmers can receive subsidies for hectares of farmland. In the future, this should be replaced by what is called an eco-diet. This is a reward system that should encourage farmers to make their businesses more sustainable. The Council proposes a point system based on the sustainable performance of farmers. A farmer can then earn points in various areas, such as climate, soil, water and landscape. The total number determines the level of sustainability and the amount the government pays.
The advisory body also makes recommendations to the cabinet to make it financially more attractive for farmers to do greener businesses. For example, by forcing the distribution sector to stock a fixed part of its range with durable products.
The Rli also offers agreements between slaughterhouses and sustainable breeders. In addition, the cabinet may decide to lower the tax on sustainable foods.
The Agriculture Ministry said in a response that many of the criticisms are recognizable. A spokesperson for Minister Schouten said the department is also focusing on farmers who want to continue in business. According to Schouten, there are already various subsidy programs for farmers who want to make their businesses greener.
A version of this article also appeared in NRC on the morning of December 2, 2021
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