Thousands of farmers gathered in central Holland on Wednesday to protest the Dutch government’s plans to curb nitrogen oxide and ammonia emissions by driving their tractors through the Netherlands and disrupting traffic on major highways.
The protest was organized earlier this month after the government published national targets to reduce emissions, sparking anger from farmers who say their livelihoods – and those of thousands of people working in the agricultural services sector – are at risk.
Calling this an “unavoidable transition”, the government has demanded reductions in emissions of up to 70% in many places near protected natural areas and up to 95% elsewhere. The government was forced to act after courts in recent years began blocking permits for infrastructure and housing projects because the country failed to meet its emissions targets.
In the early afternoon, many arrived at a green field in the small farming village of Stroe, about 70 kilometers east of the capital, Amsterdam, where a stage was set up for speakers to address the crowd and music blared from loudspeakers as the kids jumped on a giant inflatable pig.
Farmers honked their tractors as they drove into the countryside, where a banner on a truck read, in Dutch, “What The Hague chooses is deeply saddening for the farmer,” a reference to lawmakers in the city that is home to the Dutch parliament. Another banner on a tractor read: “We can’t be stopped anymore.”
The national infrastructure authority urged drivers to delay travel as the slow convoys of tractors defied calls not to use the highways as they headed for the rally.
In The Hague, a few dozen farmers and their supporters, some wearing T-shirts with the text “No Farmers, No Food,” gathered for breakfast on Wednesday before heading to the protest.
“This is where the rules are made,” said dairy farmer Jaap Zegwaard, who parked his tractor on the edge of a park in the city. “I was asked to come here and provide breakfast to show that we are food producers, not pollution producers.”
The ruling coalition has earmarked an extra 24.3 billion euros ($25.6 billion) to fund changes that are likely to see many farmers drastically reduce their livestock numbers or get rid of them altogether.
The plans, which are to be carried out by provincial governments, have been contested even by members of Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s own party and other members of his coalition. Provincial governments were given a year to formulate plans to meet reduction targets.
A government lawmaker, Tjeerd de Groot, tweeted that he planned to attend to discuss the plan with farmers, but canceled his trip on the recommendation of a government security agency.
“Does tractor law apply in our country?” he tweeted.
Agriculture is a key sector in the Dutch economy, with exports worth nearly €105 billion last year. But it comes at a cost of producing polluting gases, despite farmers taking steps to reduce emissions.
Zegwaard said farmers were prepared to talk about how to reduce emissions, but objected to the industry taking most of the blame.
“Now the agricultural sector is dismissed as a big polluter and that’s not right,” he said.
Associated Press writer Mike Corder in The Hague, Netherlands, contributed.