Dutch agriculture minister resigns after farmers kick up a stink over pollution regulations

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By AP  with Euronews
Dutch farmers protest against nitrogen and ammonia emissions cuts near the town of Drachten.
Dutch farmers protest against nitrogen and ammonia emissions cuts near the town of Drachten.   -   Copyright  AP Photo/Peter Dejong, File

The Dutch agriculture minister has resigned amid a tumultuous summer of protests by farmers over pollution regulations.

Henk Staghouwer, who held the position for only nine months, announced his departure on Twitter.

He later told reporters that he wasn’t the right person for the job and would be resigning.

The country’s lucrative agriculture sector has been in crisis since a 2019 court ruling forced the government to slash emissions of nitrogen oxide and ammonia, which livestock produce.

Thousands of agricultural workers have staged protests, blockading cities with tractors and burning hay bales along major roads.

“Farmers and fishermen need certainty about where the sector is headed so that they can invest and do business,” he said.

Staghouwer had just returned from Brussels, where he negotiated an agreement with the European Commission to scrap a Dutch exemption to manure spreading limits.

The Netherlands -- along with Denmark, Ireland and the Flanders region of Belgium -- are allowed by the EU to exceed caps on how much manure farmers could return to their fields.

This is due in part to the country’s comparatively small land area.

Brussels wants to phase this exception out because the Netherlands has failed to meet EU water quality standards.

Staghouwer had been tasked with transitioning the sector away from intensive farming practices and buying out farmers to reduce total emissions.

“I respect his brave decision,” Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte wrote on Twitter.

Staghouwer’s role will temporarily be taken on by former Dutch agricultural minister Carola Schouten.