Opinion | Farmers themselves benefit from the change in agriculture

The nitrogen problem that is currently occupying the whole of the Netherlands so much is not just popping out of the blue. It is the result of political choices that have been consistently made year after year by successive cabinets. The main choice was to give the agricultural industry as much free rein as possible, to respond as effectively as possible to the game of supply and demand.

The idea of ​​the free market was embraced in the agricultural sector. The production was to take place at a competitive cost price for the world market. Conditions set by the EU, such as milk quotas, fertilizer legislation and phosphate standards, were perceived in Dutch politics and by the presidents as difficult rather than constructive. In the meantime, this goal could only be maintained by providing farmers with huge subsidies, paid for by Europe, then ultimately paid for by the European and thus the Dutch citizens.

The peasant death

In the free market economy, the law of the strongest applies. As a result, large companies become larger and small companies disappear. Also in agriculture. When I started as a veterinarian in 1985, there were still 96,000 milk producers in the Netherlands. Now in 2022 there will be 15,000 rounded. In almost forty years, 85 percent of milk producers have therefore disappeared. The 15 percent remaining companies are all large companies that achieve the same production with a small number of people as all companies combined 40 years ago when the milk quota was introduced.

In Germany, they have a word for it: the peasant death† The phenomenon that farmers are forced to stop their business at a rapid pace is therefore not something that occurs at once to solve the nitrogen problems. No, it’s a process that has been going on for years as a result of current policies. If the policy remains unchanged, Bauernsterben will continue unabated.

Also read: The big farms are doing everything they can

The growth of the 15 percent successful companies has been made possible by the acquisition of small, less successful companies, the construction of large stables and expensive milking installations. In this series of growth, driven by the laws of the free economy, a number of parties have made a lot of money. It is the banks and their shareholders who made the capital available to the peasants so that they could invest in growth. In addition, feed suppliers and their shareholders who have sold the concentrate must enable high production. And also the suppliers of fertilizers and pesticides, which made the grass grow even faster. Then there are the mechanization companies, which made it possible to cultivate ever larger areas by selling ever larger tractors.

And the suppliers of milking installations and milking robots, which made it possible to milk more and more cows with fewer and fewer people. And do not forget the specialized construction companies, which made it possible to keep several cows on one farm by building ever larger and more modern stables. And the dairy industry, which adds value to the milk produced and distributes it worldwide. And finally my sector, veterinary practice, which made it possible to keep many animals in a small area through company counseling subscriptions and vaccination forms as well as sales of medicines and pesticides.


In this series I do not mention the farmer. Is it surprising? In many cases, he will have seen his business fortune increase. But certainly not his disposable income and the amount of free time. In addition, the huge scale increase and increase in value of his company makes it seriously difficult to take over the company of the next generation.

In many cases, therefore, the acquiring party is the bank, or an investor in real estate, whose children then lease the land.

In itself, this phenomenon, which is the result of the free market and the subsequent increase in scale, is not unusual and has also occurred in all sorts of other industries in recent decades. The special thing about the history of the peasants is that the Dutch society pays disproportionately much the price for modern production methods and the scale increase of the peasants.

It seems that politicians and administrators were no match for farming

That price consists of the decline in the quality of life of the citizens, which is caused by the impoverishment of the landscape. The decline in biodiversity, which reduces the value of glory. The decrease in the quality of life of the villages due to stoppage and / or abandonment of farms and thus the farmers’ families. The decrease in water quality due to eutrophication of the ditches and eventually the drinking water. The decrease in the quality of the inhaled air due to ammonia and particles. And not least because of the decline in biodiversity in the last pieces of nature left to us.

quality of life

It is noteworthy that the latter, the decline in species richness in natural areas, is ultimately the argument for changing course, while the other aforementioned issues relating to human, citizen health and quality of life have never given rise to interventions with regard to the past. In addition, it is equally remarkable that European rules should force our government to take measures to protect people and nature. It seems that in recent years our own politicians and administrators have not been able to cope with the forces of the major players in the field, agribusiness, so that the development described above could continue for far too long at the expense of large social victims. ..: the viability of our beautiful country and the health of our own people.

Also read: Peasant resistance: how intimidation and radical actions blocked the nitrogen negotiations

The question that can now quite rightly be asked is this: For whom and for what purpose are the farmers actually demonstrating?

Is it to throw the nitrogen measures off the table and continue as existing? Then I do not support the demonstrations and the farmer protests. Or are farmers demonstrating for a better future for themselves, where future generations of farmers also have a chance for an independent and healthy agriculture in a healthy environment for farmers and citizens? Then I understand.

But in the latter case, we really need to change course and we cannot escape drastic action. One of the measures will necessarily include the reduction of harmful nitrogen compounds in the agricultural sector. How will this be done in detail? In any case, it will have to be realized in a careful way with respect for farmers and citizens.

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