by Aris Roussinos
Wednesday, 20
July 2022
Debate
15:26

What the Right gets wrong about Dutch farmers

They are defending a globalised and hyper-intensive form of agriculture
by Aris Roussinos
(Credit: VINCENT JANNINK/ANP/AFP via Getty Images)

Moving on from Covid, the conspiratorial wing of the populist Right has a new cause célèbre on which to hang its fears of global governance and the Great Reset purportedly being plotted by Klaus Schwab from his Alpine lair. This time, it’s Dutch farmers, whose protests against their government’s plans to force them to curb their use of nitrogen-based fertilisers and lower the polluted runoff from their farms has seen them lauded by Right-wing commentators across the Anglosphere as some form of modern peasants’ revolt.

As a recent UnHerd explainer made clear, the Dutch government may have handled the process badly, but the problems are clear enough: the Netherlands’ hyper-intensive form of agriculture is ecologically untenable, severely harming the tiny country’s biodiversity and locking the country’s agricultural sector into a system of overproduction of livestock for export. This entails dangerously low profit margins for farmers themselves, and a system reliant on imports of chemical fertilisers.

Partly as a result of the country’s painful experience of famine during the Second World War, Dutch agriculture has long pursued maximum efficiency, making the Netherlands a food exporting powerhouse second only to the vastly larger United States, but locking farmers into a cycle of dependency on globalised agribusinesses. All of the UK’s problems with intensive farming practices that have lowered farmers’ incomes while harming animal welfare and polluting Britain’s landscape are displayed to a significantly heightened degree in the Netherlands. The country’s food production system relies on what are essentially green factories or giant warehouses for livestock, packing animals together four times more densely than in the UK, rather than the small family farms many outside supporters seem to imagine.

The current system in the Netherlands is simply unsustainable, but the Dutch government’s abrupt approach to solving the problem has turned it into a political crisis. As the Dutch spokesperson for the World Wildlife Fund, Natasja Oerlemans observes, the problems now are “the result of 30 years of inaction, despite all of the scientific reports and warnings”. “We as a society have allowed this broken food system to happen,” she added, “and we are responsible for providing farmers alternatives”.

As the Guardian noted last year, while the Dutch government’s proposals include paying off farmers to reduce production or leave the industry, it also includes billions of Euros of aid designed towards “helping others transition to more extensive (as opposed to intensive) methods of farming, with fewer animals and a bigger area of land”.

The goal of the Dutch government’s proposals is aimed to bring Dutch farming closer in line to British farming, where herds of cows roam freely on wide pastures, and away from the American agribusiness model, where cattle live on feedlots eating imported grain. However badly the transition has been handled — and Dutch farmers should be better supported in their shift to a more sustainable model — this goal is, in itself, a welcome shift towards a better functioning food model. Excitable conservatives of a conspiratorial bent should think carefully about which they prefer: a world of small farms producing high-quality food while shepherding the natural environment, or the continuation of a fragile, globalised food system in hock to giant corporations.

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Ray Mullan
Ray Mullan
27 days ago

I would like to think that the author is merely deluded.
Globalism is very real. This is not about a future filled with bijou farms producing artisan food stuffs for the tables of the chattering classes. This is about the greatest transfer of wealth and property to a select few in recorded history.
Why not read what the World Economic Forum have had to say about the Great Reset on their own website for the past two years.
Impoverished farmers the world over will be forced not to down–size but to sell their land to conglomerates — or Bill Gates — in the interests of “sustainability”.
It is The Grapes of Wrath all over again but this time around we are being told that we will be happy about it.

Last edited 27 days ago by Ray Mullan
John Sullivan
John Sullivan
25 days ago
Reply to  Ray Mullan

It’s disappointing from Aris. He’s usually a lot more thorough in his analysis. His lack of any reference to the role of ghe WEF tells us everything.

Ray Mullan
Ray Mullan
25 days ago
Reply to  John Sullivan

The deliberately dismissive tone of the piece put me in mind of something by an intern at The Guardian or the BBC — hence my gander taking a markedly upward turn.
This subtitled clip of parliamentarian Gideon Van Meijeren confronting prime minister Mark Rutte on his glowing review of Schwab’s book, The Great Reset, has been circulating for over a year now.
And this clip of Mark Rutte recieving the first “Global Citizen” award from Klaus Schwab on the tenth anniversary of the Atlantic Council is almost three years old.
Frankly anyone who does not look at current events in the Netherlands and see parallels with, say, Justin Castro’s response to the Canadian truck drivers convoy last Winter must have their head firmly in their fundament.

Julian Farrows
Julian Farrows
26 days ago

It’s not so much the outcome, but the process of decision-making that is crucial to implementing policy. When policies are dished out without first consulting those it directly impacts, people start to dig their heels in.

Matt M
Matt M
26 days ago

The problem is one of democracy. If you wish to impose this sort of disruption to your citizen’s lives: work out and cost the plan, open it to public discussion and then hold a referendum. If it passes, implement it. If it doesn’t scrap the idea (for at least 25 years).

But don’t just marshal the elites against the farmers (or whoever it might be next). There is a name for that type of behaviour…

Last edited 26 days ago by Matt M
Will Will
Will Will
27 days ago

if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Since WW2 the Dutch have done a marvellous job including using technology in delivering fantastic living standards for their population. I am extremely sceptical about any and all changes that prima facie smack of Ludditism.

Paula 0
Paula 0
26 days ago

How would farmers be paid any more by raising fewer animals on wider areas of land? Through billions of Euro in E.U. subsidies? How long will that last?

I am glad that the author supports better wages for farmers from Agribusiness concerns. That said, those are a lot of tractors in the pictures, representing real farmers and real livelihoods.

How are these farmers going to survive, with fewer animals and paying somehow? for more? land, that is somehow? available to them?

What biodiversity has been lost? Half, more or less, of Holland, was dredged from the sea. For an apparently biodiversity-poor nation, the country is singularly beautiful. One knows when one is in Holland.

It is also pretty great that it is an economic powerhouse, and that I, in Germany, can eat fantastic Dutch eggs and Dutch pork, and lovely Dutch tomatoes.

If smaller farms can keep Holland’s economy strong, and food arriving to neighboring countries, without subsidies that keep them dependent on the E.U. treat, then give us your plan.

Where is your plan on which other countries won’t use exploitative Agribusiness concerns, and provide the amount and quality of food that Holland does?

Isn’t it sad that Holland has to deal with all these challenges, armed only with scientists and engineers it trains in its universities, and with Dutch farmers and workers who are hard-working,, creative, industrious and proud? Who are also able to export to the world it’s scientific knowledge, including how to deal with rising waters threatening land?

Better to just whine and ask for subsidies, so farms are larger, somehow more biodiverse, and magically feeding more people, right? That will happen. And the E.U. will magically have the money for subsidies despite fewer taxes from fewer Dutch exports and less global consumption of the fruits of their labor.

Because of course, it can be done better, and not by Agribusiness, somewhere else, if not by larger farms and fewer animals in Holland and E.U. subsidies. Forget Dutch innovation, pride in country and labor. Let Holland grow weak, sucking on the E.U. treat. The magic treat, whose subsidies will never run dry, if people give up their ability to supply food, on their magically bigger farms.

*substitute another word for treat, as otherwise this needs moderation.

Last edited 26 days ago by Paula
sean waistell
sean waistell
25 days ago
Reply to  Paula 0

Just because you can point to ‘Holland Exceptionalism’ as a version of reality doesn’t mean that the mode in which it is operating won’t ultimately come crashing down. A system not in harmony with the reality of nature is ultimately a conception incompatible with nature. We can kick the van down the road only so long. Course correction is needed and clear seeing is its antecedent.

John Sullivan
John Sullivan
25 days ago
Reply to  sean waistell

Your own “version of reality” is what the rest of us call Totalitarianism.

Pat Rowles
Pat Rowles
25 days ago
Reply to  sean waistell

kick the van down the road

Well, with the price of fuel being what it is…

Betsy Arehart
Betsy Arehart
25 days ago
Reply to  Paula 0

E.U. teat. As in udder.

Last edited 25 days ago by Betsy Arehart
Dave Smith
Dave Smith
26 days ago

This is certainly a new light on the matter. However the problem is deeper than this. I feel we are now so mistrustful of the state that it no longer commands our loyalty or cooperation. The Dutch are just like the Canadians and us in that respect. The Western democracies wrecked the consent needed by using lockdowns to increase their powers.
I have no faith in anything the British government proposes . That has gone and will not return .

Samuel Turner
Samuel Turner
26 days ago

Which right-wing commentators are you talking about? The ability of farmers to produce food really shouldn’t be a Left/Right issue. Especially during a cost-of-living crisis. Especially with a global food-shortage caused by the war in Ukraine. Really Aris, how do you suppose we solve global supply issues and unsure Russian defeat while we are obsessed with destroying our productive capacity in the name of net zero?

David Willem
David Willem
26 days ago

You’re very correct in assessing the problem of intensive farming. However, the farmers themselves keep saying that they very much understand the problem and are open to change. This is more about the government refusing to acknowledge the models they’re using are wrong, even when pointed out by their own scientists. Farmers that did adapt to the rural ideal are being told to lose just as much as those that did not because of it. It’s also more about the Rabobank (the bank of every farmer) refusing to cut debts, thus giving no way out either. Last but not least there is the widespread fear that the removal of farmlands won’t give way to more organic widespread farms but to housing and asylum centers. At least one local Frisian government already put it in black and white that they’ll use appropriated farmland for just that. There are certainly elements of conspiratorial thinking in the farmer’s movement, both national and international, but the vast amount of language used in the country is about those specific fears and issues.

Julian Farrows
Julian Farrows
25 days ago
Reply to  David Willem

This has pretty much been my understanding of what’s going on in the Netherlands too.

Peter B
Peter B
26 days ago

Forgive me asking, but how exactly is “pursuing maximum efficiency” “unsustainable” ? It is easy to claim that something you dislike is “unsustainable”. Yet there is zero evidence in this article for this claim ?
One might also claim that Dutch land reclamation is “unsustainable”. But they’ve made it work. And will no doubt continue to do so even if the sea level rises a few metres.
Shouldn’t we actually celebrate the fact that in the inefficient and corrupt world of the CAP, the Dutch actually are efficient and self-sufficient in food ? Isn’t this a good thing ?
I suspect that the future of farming actually involves more technology and intensive techniques (quite possibly with more synthetically produced proteins and fewer livestock). I would be very surprised if turning the clock back provides the solutions.
The whole article seems to rest on a naive assumption that big businesses are somehow evil and small farms good.

James Cordwell
James Cordwell
24 days ago

This article is plainly wrong! The World Economic Forum (WEF) with the UN Agenda 2030 has utterly destroyed a once prosperous nation, Sri Lanka. A land once brimming with tourism and food, now has neither. It lost its food production due to Green Policies, lauded by the WEF, by banning nitrogen and moving to GMO Seeds etc, and now the nation is bankrupt. The WEF has even removed its earlier praise from its website. Now the WEF and the UN have moved on to the Netherlands.
Dutch farmers have been given 7 years to achieve what other businesses would take decades to do, perhaps 50 years to achieve. They have already, through better feeding methods cut Nitrogen use and reduced ammonia output hugely, but to be asked for further reductions of 50% to 90% over seven years is ridiculous. Would banks ever be asked to do something so quickly? What business could react to changing policy that quickly?
The thing is, it’s impossible and it’s meant to be. Rutte has agreed to be a World Food Innovation Hub and a Global Coordinating Secretariat, passing this nonsense all over the world. It’s a disgrace and Rutte is in the pocket of the WEF!
The Dutch farmers will be decimated at a time of World wide food crisis, it’s insane?
However, the plan IS for it to fail. The plan is for global corporations or madmen like Bill Gates to step in to buy the land cheaply. All part of the WEF’s Great RESET. When will the world’s populations say NO to this huge transfer of power and wealth???

Last edited 24 days ago by James Cordwell
ken rogers
ken rogers
22 days ago

This has WEF written all over it. I think the farmers are well within their rights to fight back against this obvious globalist ploy

Alan Hughes
Alan Hughes
26 days ago

The Dutch experience has been the exact opposite of the regenerative agriculture we need. The author is correct that this has been handled badly by the government but also correct that the rebels here are not simple farmers but high-intensity agribusinesses. We may have benefitted from cheap food but we have wasted and abused this change and it was never going to be sustainable. We still need to find our way to sustainable mixed farming; we should not let our dislike of state intervention cloud us to real problems when they exist.

Paula 0
Paula 0
26 days ago
Reply to  Alan Hughes

Excuse me, it is extremely sustainable in Holland. Holland has a long history of applying science and engineering to generate prosperity while maintaining a landscape they dredged from the sea. They have skin in the game. I have read stories how designers work to make humane conditions for animal husbandry. They are smart and capable, and they provide food beyond their borders.

Who do you want in charge? Who has the know how and whose country is as pollution free and livable as Holland’s, with a prosperous economy?

Where is food supposed to come from? Where is this magic place where farmers do not sell to collective Agribusiness?

Explain where Euro billion subsidies will come from, if the economy is decimated, which generates the taxes to pay those subsidies, please. Fewer animals on magically larger farms paid for by magic E.U. subsidies will not provide the innovation and surplus generated by Dutch people, who have always worked for a livable and prosperous nation.

Last edited 26 days ago by Paula
Peter B
Peter B
26 days ago
Reply to  Alan Hughes

“Real problems” = providing enough food at prices people can afford with security of supply.
It looks to me like the Dutch farmers today are definitely part of the solution and not the problem.
This is all driven by naive political agendas.