Animal feed lobbies against nitrogen policy and supports farmers

The peasants are not alone in their protest. Anyone who was still in doubt would do well to look at the flags during the demonstration in Stroe in Gelderland: In addition to logos from demonstrating groups like LTO and Agractie, those from companies like ForFarmers and Agrifirm will also adorn them. Relatively unknown names, but they are big players with billions in turnover in the agricultural industry.

Just like four years ago, companies from the agricultural sector are sponsoring the protests. From stage construction to sound installations and advertising campaigns. The cost of the event is largely paid for by donations from the industry. With an important role for the feed industry.

“We are making a financial contribution. An amount that the event can be arranged with,” said a spokesman for animal feed producer ForFarmers. “The company declined to comment on an exact amount.

The animal feed company Agrifirm also provides ‘financial support’ for the protest and is present at the demonstration with the employees. The competitor De Heus “supports the farmers” and disagrees with the government’s policy. The group does not say how it supports the actions of farmers.

They may not immediately come to the fore, but just like four years ago, the agro-lobby is once again in line with farmers’ protests. Who are these big feeders and why are they putting money into the nitrogen protests?

Solid financier

When plans were to be made in 2018 to reduce the emission of nitrogen sticks, Ede sheep breeder Bart Kemp and his action group Agractie triggered a series of protests. “When I was still completely alone, I was contacted by the director of ForFarmers Holland. The company supported my goals and approach and jumped in with lightning speed, “he told NU.nl.

With ForFarmers, Kemp immediately had a solid financier behind him. The company from Lochem in Gelderland has existed since 1896. Started as a local cooperative, it grew through a series of mergers and acquisitions into an international multi-billion company. In the beginning, the farmers were the owners themselves, but now they jointly own about 20 per cent. The rest has been traded on the Amsterdam Stock Exchange since 2016.

This makes ForFarmers the best known of about a hundred animal feed companies in the Netherlands. ForFarmers, along with De Heus and Agrifirm, are significantly larger than the rest. The three companies control about 70 to 75 percent of the Dutch market.

De Heus, also from Gelderland, has a long history in food production. What started as a mill in 1786, grew in the twentieth century into an international producer and exporter of animal feed. The fourth generation of De Heus is now at the helm. The family is according to business magazine Quote the fifth richest family in the country.

Of the three, Agrifirm, which started in 1892 as a cooperative of farmers who wanted security of supply for animal feed, is the least known. Where ForFarmers went public, Agrifirm is still one of the members. There are now more than ten thousand.

The three companies have billions in turnover, mainly in the Netherlands. In 2021, for example, ForFarmers achieved an estimated half of its € 2.7 billion revenue in its own country. For Agrifirm, it was 1.5 billion euros with a turnover of 2.3 billion euros. The Dutch branch of De Heus had a turnover of 1.1 billion euros in 2020, compared to 3.2 billion euros for the international branch.

If you look at the millions of tons of compound feed they sell each year, you can see how important the feed industry is to these companies. ForFarmers derives more than two-thirds of its sales from this agricultural sector. At Agrifirm, this is more than 60 per cent.

In short: forced reduction of livestock directly affects companies in the wallet. ForFarmers has already in recent years experienced a decline in revenues from compound feeds for livestock.

Companies have been lobbying directly and indirectly for various policies for years. It is most clearly seen on De Heus. The company has former VVD MP Michiel Peters on the payroll as a lobbyist. VVD MP in North Brabant Roel Greken, whose portfolio includes nature and the environment, also works for De Heus.

Together with dairy giant Royal A-ware and calf producer VanDrie Group, De Heus also funds the AgriFacts Foundation, a platform that checks – sometimes incorrectly – reports on nitrogen and agriculture.

A couple of years ago, ForFarmers hired Yvon Jaspers as a galleon figure in an advertising campaign. This led to an investigation by the Danish Media Authority because its TV station KRO-NCRV’s independence would be at stake. Jaspers did not seem to mind breaking any of the rules, but stopped working for ForFarmers.

Innovation

When asked about the consequences of shrinking livestock, farms remain on the surface. ForFarmers states that it is now the provinces’ turn, but says that they want to ‘prevent the cleaning of domestic animals as much as possible’ by focusing on innovation and technology. The animal feed companies continue to see the opportunity to make the preparation of the plans more favorable to them through political pressure.

De Heus focuses on innovation to “maintain the quality of life and economic resilience of the Dutch landscape”. Agrifirm emphasizes that it is aware that ‘the number of animals in the Netherlands will fall’, but that it will ‘survive’, among other things through acquisitions at home and abroad.

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