Dutch Agriculture: Past, Present, and Future


The government of the Netherlands recently issued a shocking statement: “The honest message is that not all farmers will be able to continue their business.”

Unfortunately, the message isn’t as honest as it is brutal. The truth is that officials in The Hague intend to use a nitrous oxide policy directive that targets only farms and agriculture for now. This is their choice rather than a matter of the business cycle. It’s a deliberate decision by our government to probably force farmers to stop farming and damaging the Netherlands’ farmers ability to produce food and make a living.

That’s why thousands of my fellow Dutch farmers have turned into protesters, blocking roads with tractors and even bringing cows to Parliament.

I’m a Dutch dairy farmer, and although I haven’t participated in these protests, I support friendly protests. This is a very serious matter for Dutch agriculture, as Parliament and the Ministers of Agriculture and Nature have not been able to draw a vision of what Dutch agriculture should look like in 15 years; what we want and what the world needs and what a true perspective is for farmers. They choose, perhaps, the easy way. This is why farmers feel very desperate, about the government’s goals, their voice and ideas not being heard and about their and their children’s future.

My husband and I run a nature-friendly farm in the center of our small nation. We have 120 dairy cows as well as 30 calves and young cows. We are sustainable, too, as we make our own energy, recycle waste, improve biodiversity, and much more. We educate citizens and school classes on what we do as a dairy farmer and how we work together with nature.

Beyond the basics of food production and environmental conservation, Dutch farms like ours make enormous economic and social contributions. We export much of what we produce, bringing money and prosperity into our country. We employ people who need jobs. We create social cohesion in the villages of rural areas. We have the world’s highest standards for animal welfare.

Our government leaders say they want to cut emissions of nitrogen in half by 2030. To accomplish this goal, they’re forcing farmers to slash their use of nitrogen products. In my area, we’re supposed to reduce nitrogen by 47 percent. Some regions are marked for reductions of 70 percent and a few are even supposed to achieve reductions of 95 percent. Many farmers question the feasibility of the goal in 2030.

This is in addition to what the EU is already trying to impose upon us in the European Green Deal and its Farm to Fork agenda that includes regulations about nitrate, water quality and manure as well.

blue and yellow buildingNone of this would make sense in an era of peace and abundance, but it’s especially misfocused at a time when the world’s food security is jeopardized by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the ensuing shortages of basic commodities.

We need more food, not less.

We also must produce it sensibly in an era of climate responsibility. Farmers favor regulations that balance the need to produce food with the need to protect the environment. Of course, we are willing to do our part. In fact, we have already done massive reduction as well as give the government our own plans and ideas to reduce emissions even more.

In recent years, in fact, we’ve adapted our farm to modern realities. We’re doing much more with a lot less.

We use precision farming techniques to conserve fertilizer. We deliver this important crop growth tool in the right quantities to exactly where it must go for the good of our crops. This allows us to grow what we need and at the same time to limit any runoff, for water protection.

We also plant cover crops to protect our soil from erosion and trap carbon. We’re even rebuilding the floor in our barn to reduce emissions of ammonia.

We do this because we support a healthy environment. We do it for our country and the world. We also do it for ourselves and for the future of our children. Farmers live closer to nature than anybody. When it comes to sustainability, we have the most to gain from conservation practices.

But we shouldn’t have to carry this burden by ourselves. Other industries have a huge stake in this environmental goal as well. The best solution would be to come up with an integral plan that the Netherlands entire industry and agriculture sector can work on together, with a focus on innovation and new techniques to reduce nitrogen and ammonia emissions. These techniques are already available. We can work together because we can and we want to.

Over the next year, provincial governments are supposed to come up with specific plans to reduce nitrogen. That’s why these protests will continue. But dialogue is necessary as well. It is important for policymakers and the public to hear our voice so they know that agriculture is part of the solution. There is a future for all of us.

Judith de Vor

Judith de Vor

Raised in the city but married to a farmer, Judith de Vor is now a proud dairy farmer who is working with her animals every day. Together with her husband Rick and 3 kids, as a fifth generation they continue their love for the animals and the land while raising cows. They are working in a sustainable and regenerative way – as much as possible. Their environment, the society, nature and landscape management are important parts of the way they farm. Judith is running several projects for increasing biodiversity and endangered bird species are protected at the farm. Thousands of people are being welcomed each year on the farm. From open farm days to school classes, agricultural organizations and policy makers; they all come to the farm to learn and understand farming and food production. Judith believes dialogue is very important when it comes to making true connections.

Judith is an advocate for agriculture and part of TeamAgroNL and a Nuffield farming scholar. She promotes Dutch food and farmers and speaks at several events all over the world. With a background in political science, agricultural policies has her interest. She is also an agricultural social innovator. Judith is stimulating and supporting other farmers with new ideas, leadership and personal development with special attention to mental health. She is currently working on creating a new mentoring program.

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