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Dutch farmers worried by 'unrealistic' emissions reduction target

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By Gregoire Lory
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Protesting farmers block a draw bridge at a lock in the Princess Margriet canal, preventing all ship traffic from passing in Gaarkeuken, northern Netherlands, July 4, 2022.
Protesting farmers block a draw bridge at a lock in the Princess Margriet canal, preventing all ship traffic from passing in Gaarkeuken, northern Netherlands, July 4, 2022.   -   Copyright  AP Photo/Peter Dejong

Farmers in the Netherlands fear they will be unable to meet the government's emissions reduction demands, as it aims to reduce by 50% nitrogen and ammonia emissions by 2030.

Dairy farmer Jan Arie Koorevaar runs a 120-cow farm on 95 hectares and told Euronews that he does not know what to do.

"My farm is turning into an organic farm. So you could say: OK you're doing all things right, but still, I am in big doubt," Koorevaar said. "I do not know if that has been enough. So for me, I think I've done good things but I don't know if that is enough. And every farmer currently doesn't know if he did enough or not."

The Netherlands is the second largest agricultural exporter in the world, with its 53,000 farms and intensive production, making up for 10% of the national economy. 

If the government's plan is implemented properly, farms will have to reduce their emissions by 70%, or by even more in the case of some estimates. 

Koorevaar said it could be the end of the road for some farmers who will have to reduce their livestock, which are a major emitter of nitrogen due to the manure and artificial fertilisers used.

"Every farmer might face expropriation at this moment. That is a stupid situation," he told said.

"So they're not looking at me, they're looking at a total reduction of nitrogen. And an algorithm determined on a map that says OK: well, Jan Arie you'll have to reduce 47%, and another farmer 70% and another farmer 95%."

In recent weeks, demonstrations denouncing the government's plan have increased. Some have led to clashes with police. 

The main farmers' union, LTO Nederland, has distanced itself from these protests but is contesting the government's plan.

"The government has unrealistic targets," Wytse Sonnema, spokesperson for LTO told Euronews. "A 50% reduction by 2030 will hurt the future of farming in the Netherlands but the social, economic and cultural future of the Dutch countryside in general."

There are now some concerns that this latest plan could be the first of many harsh announcements by the Dutch government on emission reductions in different sectors, like aviation, transport and road building.