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OPINION

Dutch agricultural reform needs more funding, not fewer farmers

The Netherlands wants biodiversity to be at the forefront of agricultural reform. But the government’s plan to buy out livestock farmers – which was behind the resignation of agriculture minister Henk Staghouwer last week – is a short-sighted solution.

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For decades the Dutch farming business model has favoured density and intensification to increase productivity. The sector has become more concentrated over the years: fewer, larger units are generating ever more output. But now facing strict climate policies and higher costs, farmers are being told to produce more with less – or change careers.

In its June report, ‘A National Program to Reduce Nitrogen Greenhouse Gas Emissions in Rural Areas’, the Dutch government set reduction targets at a provincial level, ranging from 12% to 70%. The plan gives farmers one of three options: sustainable transition, relocation, or termination.

As the government itself admits, there isn’t a future for all Dutch farmers within this approach. It’s a tough-love stance for the world’s second-largest agricultural exporter after the US. The Netherlands has an extremely intensive farming industry relative to land size; rural areas represent over 50% of the country’s surface area.

If the state budget isn’t big enough to buy out farms and fund innovation, then what should be prioritised is the innovation

But highly productive farming comes with a catch: high emissions.