Dutch Farmers’ Exodus

A growing number of Dutch farmers are leaving the Netherlands, citing increasingly tough rules and regulations regarding agricultural pollution and emissions. Many are moving to nearby Germany and Denmark, with a significant portion crossing the Atlantic to settle in Canada.

Land prices in the Netherlands are among the highest in Europe. That makes it attractive for farmers to sell and “go to Canada or Denmark and buy a much bigger farm,” said Klaas Johan Osinga, a senior adviser on international policy for Dutch farmers’ association LTO. But there’s fear that the migrating Dutch farmers will bring their hyper-efficient techniques to their new countries — creating the same pollution problems that forced them to leave their homeland.

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Farmers in the Netherlands — dealing with the constraints of living in a small, densely populated country — have been emigrating for a long time. But that flight has intensified over the last five years as farmers feel they are bearing the brunt of new regulatory measures to curb biodiversity loss and climate change. The Dutch Statistical Office CBS calculated that only 100 farmers emigrated between 2010 and 2015. Agriculture broker Interfarms — which helps farmers buy and sell land — estimated that since 2015, when new rules to curb phosphate emissions went into effect, that increased to about 75 farmers per year. New rules cutting nitrogen emissions are expected to boost the number of farming migrants even higher. The problems with Dutch farms stem from their efficiency and intensity. Despite being tiny, the Netherlands is the world’s fifth-largest exporter of dairy and the second-largest global exporter of food by value after the United States. But there is a price for that: the nation’s 3.8 million cows produce so much manure that there isn’t enough space to get rid of it safely. Agriculture is also the largest source of excess nitrogen in the EU’s protected Natura 2000 areas. A series of court rulings are forcing the government to crack down. A 2019 verdict froze new permits for activities that emit nitrogen, hitting transport, farming and infrastructure. For agriculture, strict measures were suggested, including halving the number of permitted livestock and a voluntary buy-out scheme for polluting farms. Other countries are also tightening their rules — making it likely that the Dutch migrant farmers will soon face the same regulatory squeeze they felt at home.

Ammonia emissions from farming have steadily increased since 2014. Austria, Croatia, Germany, Ireland, the Netherlands and Spain all reported higher-than-permitted emissions levels in 2017, according to the European Environment Agency. “It’s a matter of time until … a similar court case in Germany,” Volkhard Wille, chairman of the conservation group NABU in the Lower Rhine region, said, referring to the Dutch nitrogen case. “If you look at nitrogen emissions in North Western Europe, you will see that the values in the Ruhr area and the Lower Rhine do not differ significantly from those in the Netherlands.”


Dutch farmers flee environmental rules at home to settle in other EU countries, Politico, 2021-02-08

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