A 16-year-old Dutch farmer was shot at by police while participating in a tractor blockade, farmers in the Netherlands have told the Irish Farmers Journal.
They say the incident occurred at Heerenveen, Friesland, during one of the ongoing farmer protests against strict new environmental laws from the Dutch Government.
Dutch tillage farmer Lenno Vermass, who runs what he described as a “family farm” near the town of Tholen, 50km north of Antwerp, said the 16-year-old boy was taking part in a “little [tractor] blockade north of Heerenveen”.
He described how farmers had been parked in their tractors for several hours blocking a roadway and were supervised by Dutch police. As tensions rose, he said the teenager “wanted to go home, simply started the engine and wanted to get out of the queue”.
Vermass said that a bullet fired by a Dutch police man hit the cab of the tractor the teenager was on, “between the door and the rear window”.
“The steel of the cab took the bullet. He was taken by the police and they eventually released him,” he said.
It is understood that Dutch authorities are still investing the incident and the exact origin of the bullet has not yet been confirmed.
Fellow Dutch farmer Pieter Sikkema reiterated the details of the incident which he said occurred earlier this week.
The Dutch farmers described how at least three other farmers have been arrested at tractor protests elsewhere in the Netherlands and how “many farmers have got tickets for driving on the highway”.
Vermass said that “no entry zones” have been created by Dutch authorities “around villages and cities where farmers are not allowed”.
However, the farmers called for negotiations with Vermass, stating “one day, sooner or later, the Government have to get on the table”.
In recent days, the Dutch Government has moved to appoint Johannes Wijnandus (Johan) Remkes as a mediator between farmers and the Government to achieve a resolution to the protests which have seen thousands of farmers block motorways, supermarket distribution centres and even airports.
Remkes served as deputy prime minister of the Netherlands from 2002 to 2003. On the move by Government, tillage farmer Lenno Vermass said: “All of the farm unions have said we are not going at the table when this guy is there.”
He said farmers don’t believe that Remkes will bring a “neutral” perspective to the mediated talks.
‘Alternative with steps’
The thousands of Dutch farmers continue to protest as a result of government plans to make them cut back on production, relocate, and a potential buyout of farmers to exit the sector. The measures are being used as policymakers seek to reduce nitrogen emissions by 50% by 2030.
Vermass said farmers are calling for an “alternative [plan] with steps”.
“What I see in my daily life is that we all realise that we need to do something but this is not the way we want it.”
He highlighted that he and his fellow farmers “have been pushed for decades to produce more food” and suggested that it was the agricultural policy changes led by Irishman and then European Commissioner for Agriculture Ray MacSharry that started that “direction” for his country.
“Northern Europe was good at it and now we are too good at it. Every farmer knows that we have to change but the way they’re doing it, they’re killing us,” the tillage farmer said.
Family farm future
Vermass said that he is an eighth-generation farmer and that his family have farmed his land since 1792. The environmental laws from government will require a 12% nitrogen emissions reduction on 60% of his land by 2030 and a 47% reduction on the other 40%.
He said that while farmers elsewhere are facing targets up to 70% reduction, “we are also victims” and described how the reduced nitrogen use will impact his yields and therefore, income.
“If this continues, I know my children will have to go another way. It will not be proper farming. It will only be nature farming.”