The Cabinet could solve the nitrogen crisis with half the money currently available. By buying five thousand farms near vulnerable nature reserves for 13 billion euros, the government will achieve its nitrogen targets in one fell swoop. This is evident from the internal documents of the Ministry of Finance that Norwegian Refugee Council have seen.
This is the first time civil servants have attempted this calculation, which shows the cost if the government only purchased farmers to reduce nitrogen emissions. Fiscal officials, in consultation with colleagues from agriculture, nature and food quality, calculated how farms and their land could be purchased most effectively.
The research method is simple: the livestock farms that emit the most nitrogen and that cost their animals the least money are bought first. In the financing account, it appears that the nitrogen crisis can be resolved by buying the top 10 percent of emissions from agriculture. Other agricultural companies do not have to make (technical) adjustments. The alliance agreement states that by 2030, 74 percent of Dutch nature at risk may not be degraded as a result of nitrogen emissions.
Buying farmers is very sensitive in the sector itself and politically, and faces a lot of resistance. Two weeks ago, ministers Christian van der Waal (Nature and Nitrogen, VVD) and Henk Staguer (Agriculture, Kristinoy) announced how much emissions need to be reduced in each province. Farmers are afraid to clean up the countryside. They believe that the focus is too much on corporate buying and that other solutions are being ignored, such as technical alterations to stables or reducing animals per hectare.
Cut the poultry sector in half
If the plan envisaged by the finance team becomes a reality, the consequences for the poultry sector will be even greater: they will be halved. A quarter of the pig farms will be purchased.
Remarkably, only a small percentage of dairy farms are affected. Buying them is relatively expensive, according to financing figures, because they own a lot of land. Officials assume the land price is €60,000 per hectare. The average price last year was 67 thousand euros.
According to the calculations, buying companies close to the endangered nature reserves in Gelderland would be very effective in reducing nitrogen emissions. This means that in “large portions of Gelderse Vallei the whole cultivation was purchased”. In East Brabant, too, there is very little cultivation left.
The finance department also studied what happens if the pain of restructuring spreads across the entire sector. For each farm that belongs to the top 10 percent of emitters (about 5,000) and does not disappear completely, another 27 farms must be purchased. In other words: The largest emitters cause 27 times more nitrogen precipitation than an average agricultural company.
Acquisition is one thing, execution is another. So far, the government has basically faced how difficult it is. For example, the result of the pig farmers’ mass purchase plan was disappointing: of the 430 companies that registered, 278 eventually stopped, and the nitrogen cut was two-thirds less than expected.
Among the “peak lifters”, farmers who emit a lot of nitrogen and who are near nature reserves, there is also little incentive to stop for now. The plan pushed by the government and offered by the counties since November 2020 has not made farmers sign off with difficulty. According to the counties, no farms stopped in the “nitrogen hot spots” in North Brabant and Gelderland. The scheme will end next September.
The heir of this regulation is available for consultation in Brussels. According to Minister van der Waal, this new arrangement will become “very attractive”. The faster the farmers report, the more generous their compensation. However, it is unclear whether this is allowed under European rules. If this is not allowed, the planner will have to go back to the drawing board and the purchase of farmers will be delayed – while the minister wants to expedite.
A finance spokesperson confirms that finance officials are working on the numbers and confirms that the final version will be published in the summer.
Peasants’ resistance page 4-6
A version of this article also appeared in The June 23, 2022 جريدة Newspaper