According to calculations from the Ministry of Finance, the government’s current nitrogen strategy will mean that 11,200 farms will have to close and a further 17,600 farmers will have to reduce their livestock significantly, by a third to almost half. The calculations were published on Wednesday afternoon and provide for the first time insight into how hard the agricultural sector (a total of about 40,000 to 50,000 livestock farms) is affected by the government’s nitrogen plans.
The Ministry of Finance published a large number of internal documents at the request of MEPs Pieter Omtzigt and Caroline van der Plas, after NRC previously written about the existence of the calculations from Finans. The documents reveal a smoldering conflict between the Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality (LNV), which is at the forefront of the nitrogen supply, and the Ministry of Finance, which monitors costs. The nitrogen supply in Rutte IV’s coalition agreement is seen as the ‘LNV approach’: There is a lot of money to buy out farmers or to innovate their companies so that they emit less nitrogen, but there must be as little coercion as possible.
The Ministry of Finance does not agree with this strategy and has therefore repeatedly tried to overthrow the government in recent months by mapping the costs and impact of the policy outlined. For example, the Ministry of Finance insists in the published documents that the rate for LNV ‘probably does not fit within the budget’.
24.3 billion euros reserved
There are many avenues leading to the 2030 nitrogen target: in that year, almost three quarters of the nitrogen-sensitive Natura 2000 sites in the Netherlands must be so healthy that the critical deposition value (KDW), a kind of thermometer for nitrogen damage, is not exceeded. To achieve this goal, the government has set aside 24.3 billion euros to reduce emissions.
The government has decided that the agricultural sector must reduce its nitrogen emissions by 39 kilotons in the coming decade. The idea behind the government’s strategy: The pain must spread across the agricultural sector. A concrete elaboration of the objectives for other sectors, such as aviation, will follow later this year.
But the current agricultural target is far too high, the finance officials write in one of their notes to their minister, Sigrid Kaag (D66). For example, they have calculated that almost 29,000 farms will have to stop or downsize if the cabinet uses a nitrogen target of 40 kilotons. In this way, “more companies are affected than necessary”. Officials suspect that this strategy was chosen because a “more even distribution of pain” may be easier to sell “than a targeted approach”.
Because if the cabinet chooses the same approach, but lowers the nitrogen target to 30 kilotons, the finance officials write, the natural targets will still be reached. Then 11,200 farmers will also have to stop, but will only shrink 200 companies instead of 17,600. With a targeted approach, more emphasis is placed on buying out or expropriating farmers. This is very sensitive in the agricultural sector as well as in politics and creates a lot of resistance.
According to the Ministry of Finance’s documents, this big difference has a clear reason: the first euros are used most efficiently because the biggest polluters are being bought out. The higher the target, the more farmers have to be bought out to make one kiloton of profit.
Striking: while Minister Kaag previously read the documents from finance NRC reported it as an ‘official exercise’, pretending that they were only known within her own ministry, she now writes to the Folketing that the results of the calculations have also been discussed in consultation with officials and ministers in other ministries. A spokesman for the Ministry of Finance stressed that the calculations “are still indicative and subject to validation”.
Also read: How is nature? All about the Dutch nitrogen problem
A spokesman for the Ministry of Agriculture does not know whether the current approach will result in almost 29,000 farms having to be closed down or closed down. “I can not reproduce the Financial Calculations.” A ‘high margin’ of 39 kiloton reduction has been deliberately kept, he says, so that the target can possibly be adjusted gradually. The National Program for Rural Development’s start-up document states that the nitrogen targets can still be adjusted per hectare. area for the fall on the basis of new insights. Whether the nitrogen plans are economically unaffordable, as the finance officials claim, is something LNV is not aware of. “There’s still enough money in the coffers so far.”
A version of this article was also published in the newspaper on July 21, 2022