The caretaker government in place in the Netherlands has effectively pressed pause on the rollout of sweeping plans aimed at cutting the country’s nitrogen emissions, which triggered a wave of tractor protests across the country in 2022.

A new coalition has yet to emerge after November’s elections in the Netherlands, meaning that the efforts to find compromise on reducing ammonia and nitrous oxide emissions have not progressed since.

Nitrogen emission reduction targets were unveiled in 2022 which ranged between 5% and 90%, according to region, and high targets in rural areas meant farming was the only sector able to cut back to meet these targets by 2030, in many cases.

Farmer fears had centred on the potential of the Dutch government to use compulsory purchase orders to acquire farmland to rewild if these targets could not be met with voluntary schemes alone.

Last year, two schemes worth €1.5bn were opened to livestock farmers offering compensation for shutting down and agreeing not to farm again anywhere in the EU, but these schemes have had fewer than 500 applications – less than half of the 1,200 applications targeted by the Dutch government.

The largest farming organisation in the country – the LTO - is pushing for the focus to shift away from regulation and towards better innovation, the voluntary relocation of farmers away from environmentally sensitive areas and more slurry export opportunities for livestock farmers.

“The current government is reluctant to come forward with ideas, pushing the problem over to whoever will form the next coalition,” public affairs adviser at the LTO Job Knobbout told the Irish Farmers Journal.

“The nitrogen crisis has also largely been overshadowed by the loss of the nitrates derogation, as well as other problems, such as the political stalemate.”

Farmers there have been grappling with the phased approach from 250kg N/ha to 170kg N/ha by the end of 2025.

Although the country had already been separating slurry to export in solid form and using anaerobic digestion as a means of getting nutrients off farms, Knobbout warned that the 80kg N/ha cut in stocking rates is just too large to manage with current livestock numbers.

“There is no real solution for dealing with this size of a reduction; it is way too big. It is almost inevitable that we will have fewer livestock because of this,” he explained.

“And it is not necessarily one policy or another; it is how we have this mix of policies all acting together on farmers – water legislation, nitrates policy, an EU soil monitoring directive, the EU nature restoration law, climate policy – there are so many regulations. Currently, the outlook is doom and gloom. Farmers are just facing a legislative overload.”

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