Most Irish farmers seem to support the farmers’ protests in the Netherlands. Some see the Dutch situation as a turning point in pushing agriculture back into the emissions reduction debate.
Since the Paris Agreement was signed in December 2015, there have been many calls for its implementation to be delayed.
But we have accelerated towards these Paris goals in recent years. EU policymakers have been able to focus on their environmental goals while working from home during the Covid-19 pandemic, leading to the Green Deal, Farm to Fork and CAP reform.
Even with the pandemic, the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and global inflation, the EU will call for emissions cuts now that the guidelines are in place.
Even though the Dutch government did not want structural changes in agriculture, environmentalists have cleverly used EU and national courts to force them to obey the law.
The Dutch government has proposed cutting nitrogen oxide and ammonia emissions by 50 percent by 2030 and cutting livestock numbers by a third, which could put 30 percent of the country’s farmers out of business.
A 70 percent reduction in nitrogen emissions is required by 2035.
The Netherlands is smaller in terms of area than Münster and Connacht combined, but has over 100 million cattle. The government’s €25 billion plan to cut emissions is not going down well with farmers.
This is not the first time that cuts in agricultural production have been made in the Netherlands.
In 2016, one dairy cow slaughter reduced the number of cows by almost 200,000 (equivalent to more than half of Cork’s dairy cows), while calves, weaners and heifers fell by more than 300,000 (25 per cent).
This was done to reduce phosphate levels that affect water quality.
While Dutch farmers were weeding out the required stocks, they generated additional production from the remaining cows by increasing the amount of meal fed, resulting in the phosphate reduction targets not being met.
The environmental lobby is particularly strong and well organized in the Netherlands.
In 2015, after a three-year legal battle, the court in The Hague ordered the Dutch government to cut emissions by at least 25 percent from 1990 levels within five years.
In a follow-up ruling in December 2019, the Supreme Court ordered his government to cut the country’s emissions by 25 percent by the end of 2020. Another legal case has ordered oil giant Shell to cut its emissions by 45 percent from 2019 to 2030.
All aspects of Dutch society are geared towards reducing emissions. Major housing and other construction projects are affected by the 2019 Supreme Court ruling.
New laws have been introduced to reduce speed limits on roads to reduce emissions.
There are many similarities between the Netherlands and Ireland, but Dutch agriculture has long faced animal welfare and environmental issues in a way that Irish agriculture does not.
Multi-party coalition governments are now common to both countries, with the general populace of both countries concerned about climate change and poised to elect environmental activists into national government and the European Parliament.
Dutch farmers have been forced to work with animal welfare and environmental groups for years.
Instead of praising the Dutch farmers’ protests, the real question is: why have the Dutch farmers’ unions allowed agriculture to be subjected to such drastic structural reforms?
The legal challenges have been going on for well over 10 years now and the Dutch farming organizations must have realized by 2016 that without further developing their farming systems they would be in serious trouble as a result of the legal decisions?
Where was the Dutch farm leaders’ vision of planning their way out of trouble?
Irish farmers are still struggling to come to terms with how organized and vocal environmental campaigners have become – they are not being shouted down.
Poor agricultural leadership and specialization in Irish farms has led to a split in the farming lobby, with farmers having less sympathy for farm types other than their own.
EU-27 politics is very different from the EU of the 1980s and a single-party government supported by some independents is a thing of the past here at home.
The problem for Irish farmers is that their lobbying methods have not evolved – they have failed to keep up with the changing dynamics of both European and national political structures.
In most cases, lobbying is responsive to policy changes and not proactive in policy making.
The Department of Agriculture has recognized this and instead of wasting time going through the rounds and rounds of meetings with farm organizations, they prefer to get all farm organizations in one room and watch as they try to tag each other to avoid committing to major changes for fear of losing membership and income.
So while some of the many representatives of Irish agriculture have been busy trying to appear as if they are fighting for farmers’ interests, real leadership in key policies for the future is light years behind where it needs to be.
Their inability, in the face of the challenges they face, to articulate a plan for aligning the needs of productive Irish farmers means that any type of policy position generally arrives after policy direction has already been set.
The bulk of €18 million a year in farmer funds is badly spent and future generations will foot the bill unless farm organizations can get ahead of the curve when it comes to policy making.
The tractor protests in the Netherlands will not prevent structural change from being implemented – they will only delay the inevitable for Dutch farmers.
If farm leaders aren’t ahead of policy change and constructively influencing it, then no crowd of populist photo-opportunity tractor-trailers will catch the horse after it bolts.
Angus Woods is a drywall builder in Co Wicklow
https://www.independent.ie/business/farming/comment/farm-orgs-take-note-dutch-protests-will-achieve-little-the-horse-has-already-bolted-41856822.html Farmorgs beware: Dutch protests will have little effect – the horse has already bolted