Enabling farmers in the Netherlands to be able to transition their businesses to make the sector greener and more sustainable by 2040 is the key factor to the agricultural agreement that the Cabinet wants to conclude with farmers, nature organisations, and other governments and stakeholders. Money will already be released for farmers who want to make the transition to nature-inclusive and greener agriculture in the short term: 226.6 million euros, a large part of which, 64 million, will go to “independent advice to individual entrepreneurs.”
Those involved will have until 2040 to work “with peace and confidence” towards the goals set for nature, climate and water. Agriculture minister Piet Adema wants to conclude the agreement in the first quarter of 2023, he wrote in a letter to the House of Representatives.
With the agricultural agreement, the Cabinet will follow the recommendations of VVD prominent Johan Remkes, who issued his advice last month after a series of roundtable talks. With the agreement, the Cabinet hopes to give farmers more perspective and to continue the dialogue with farmers, who have regularly disrupted the country with their protests this past year.
Adema’s predecessor, Henk Staghouwer, already announced in June that stakeholders, such as food processors and supermarkets, will have six months to make agreements related to the price of food. Otherwise, the government could do it for them with legislation the Cabinet threatened at the time. Adema said that it will now also make agreements with stakeholders in its agreement. Legal measures are still looming over the market, the minister warned.
The issue of nitrogen emissions
The nitrogen problem actually revolves around two nitrogen compounds: nitrogen oxides and ammonia. The agriculture sector mainly emits ammonia; nitrogen oxides are released when fossil fuels are burned, such as in traffic and in industry. Nature needs nitrogen, but far too high precipitation affects vulnerable nature, in some cases with acidification of the soil and loss of biodiversity.
Under the old Nitrogen Approach Program (PAS), nitrogen could be emitted before measures are taken to improve the quality of nature. In 2019, the Council of State ruled that this does not comply with European rules on protecting protected Natura 2000 areas.
The government also wants to reduce nitrogen in other sectors. Adema said when he was appointed last month that too often the emphasis is placed on farmers. The government also wants to make agreements with the fifty largest nitrogen polluters in the industry about stricter rules for permits and faster sustainability.
Will peak nitrogen emitters take buyouts?
It should become clear by next autumn if there is enough enthusiasm for the one-off payment scheme to get the most polluting livestock farmers to quit. This offer to peak polluters will open in April 2023, and it will become clear in the autumn whether the nitrogen emissions targets will be achievable. If not, the government will regrettably have to resort to coercion and the forced buy-out of peak emitters, said Christianne van der Wal, the Cabinet member in charge of nitrogen policy.
Peak emitters are farming companies and other commercial businesses that emit a relatively large amount of nitrogen in the vicinity of vulnerable nature areas. They must reduce this not only to preserve the environment, but also to create more capacity space to allow the government to grant permits to farmers who are currently farming illegally through no fault of their own.
The former Nitrogen Approach Program (PAS) allowed some organizations to set up or expand their company with only a notification, but a permit was not necessary. But that policy has been declared unlawful by the Council of State. The Cabinet wants to legalize the PAS notifications system quickly, because otherwise businesses may have to be fined, even though they acted in accordance with the rules applicable at the time.
Remkes had called on the Cabinet to significantly reduce the nitrogen emissions of the largest peak emitters as quickly as possible and in the most targeted way possible. This can also be done by innovating, relocating and the “far-reaching switching” to a greener form of agriculture that has less effect on nature, the Cabinet said on Friday. A number of peak emitters will have to stop. “The starting point of the entire approach is and remains voluntary”, emphasized Van der Wal again.