Gus Polk: From Farms of the Future to Junk Nitrogen Farms

“The famous nitrogen map in the cabinet hit like a bomb,” Jos Polk looked at the kitchen table on June 10 of this year. The map showed that his company supplies a lot of nitrogen in the Natura 2000 area. In other words: He’s a peak loader and should be gone.

“I’m done,” was my first reaction. But after a day I wanted to carry on. I’ve been paddling upstream in my agricultural business my whole life.” What makes matters worse is that his fellow German a few kilometers away doesn’t have to worry about the future.

education

The Van Polk family has been farming since 1860 and since 1976 in Erdt in Gelderland. “My dad bred the animals for mass production, I started breeding thirty years ago. Because we’re on and against the Gelderse Poort Nature Reserve, I knew we had to change our business operations in order to survive.”

Natuurkooeien is a company with an area of ​​270 hectares and 400 animals. “We have 100 suckling cows, 100 calves and a hundred bulls older and younger,” Polk says as we walk through the stables as he feeds the animals. “Oxen cover elsewhere and at some point go to slaughter. Our cows and oxen graze in nature and therefore take care of landscape maintenance.”

Polk animals graze on several square meters. Natuurkooeien is the first breeding company to be awarded the Beter Leven quality label with two stars. “Because grasses and herbs are not well suited as food, we also do farming to supplement forage for animals. We are circular.”

Grazing cows

Polk was disappointed for a long time after the nitrogen ticket. He is now getting angry. “If we look closely at the nitrogen statement, we don’t really know anything yet. This is really strange. People say a lot, but they don’t do anything with Remkes’ report,” he expresses his frustration.

“You say the government has been instructed to correctly determine what the maximum load is. But what is the government doing? Buying 2,500 companies. That’s not the answer.”

To show the complex situation of his company, we drive the tractor to the dam. “Look, a small part of our land and stables is opposite the Gelderse Poort,” Polk says. “But 80 percent of it is in the Natura 2000 area,” he continued, pointing to his stables and the cows grazing on the floodplains near Waal Valley.

“So we have to comply with strict rules when it comes to managing animals. For example, we are not allowed to plow grassland on arable land. But doing a great job.”

Problems

What makes the current uncertain situation even more difficult to comprehend is former Agriculture Minister Carola Schotten’s visit to Natuurkooeien in 2020. “She spoke the beautiful words that we were the company of the future.” This is how we want it,” she said, verbatim. He looked back and shook his head.

According to Polk, his nature-friendly way of doing business is tougher than average. “We have high investment costs for land and real estate of up to one million euros for a relatively low turnover rate, about three tons per 100 animals. Intensive farming needs only half the buildings and much less land.”

Because of the publication of the nitrogen map and the subsequent uncertainty, Polk now also faces other problems. “One of my stables in Natura 2000 has a roof too low for a bull to cover. In deed, its head is against the roof. So I would like to replace that roof, also because of the asbestos in it but that’s not possible, the banks no longer want to lend me euros.”

Once back in the yard, Polk sighed and looked forward. “I think I’ll get a letter from the government in mid-January with an offer to buy. But I’m not going to do anything, I’m just staying put. I have all the farming permits here, so I think I’m legally strong.”

He laughed

On November 22nd, the Cabinet announced that it wanted to offer max load farmers a 120 percent buyout payment. But this is Polk’s joke. “Especially with this inflation. I want to test a compressed show against the law and go to court. If I lose, I will quit my business and stop farming.”

For the first fifteen years, Polk worked full-time in addition to farming. “For money just to build my farm. I no longer have the age and energy to build a business from scratch.”

Polk sees many colleagues struggling with the current uncertainty. “The feeling is that the government imposes rules from above without appropriation. Our farmers are constantly hanging on the Sword of Damocles. I can imagine many fellows suffering psychologically,” he says belligerently.

“I’m not a conspiracy theorist, but sometimes I have the idea that the government wants to solve the rooftop problem in the Netherlands in this way. The farmers have enough land. I just don’t give up. This company is my life’s work. I have everything for it.”

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