THOUSANDS OF angry Dutch farmers took to their tractors and on to the streets, to protest against the government’s climate change proposals which intend to cut back on livestock farming.

Over 2200 farmers were involved in the 700-mile protest that took place at rush hour on Tuesday morning (October 1) in the Netherlands.

The national protest saw tractors driving to the Hague to demand from the Dutch government answers to why farming is being unfairly targeted by their climate change action plan, with industries such as tourism, motor racing and aviation getting off the hook.

A report has called for inefficient cattle farms to be shut down and some speed limits lowered to cut pollution. Farming groups believe they are being victimised and accused of being largely responsible for nitrogen oxide emissions.

The SF spoke with Dutch crop farmer Dirk-Jan Kloet who explained what prompted such a large-scale protest: “This protest was about farmers feeling abandoned by politicians and citizens. They do not receive the appreciation they deserve. Both from a financial and social point of view,” he urged. “Farmers are labelled by the media as environmental polluters and various political parties want to shrink the livestock. Some parties propose a reduction of 50%.”

Liberal MP Tjeerd de Groot called for livestock production to be halved, meaning six million fewer pigs and 50 million fewer chickens, prompting the furious reaction from farmers.

Mr Kloet continued: “There is a need for stricter environmental requirements, but all costs end up on the plate of the farmer, while the farmer is unable to negotiate with the food chain. That’s why farmers are literally stuck in the middle. Yes, they do want to become more sustainable and laws and regulations also force that, but no, society does not (yet!) have any extra money for it,” he explained.

“On the one hand, citizens want a more sustainable lifestyle by eating less meat but on the other hand, they buy new clothes and shoes every month, drive a new car every other year, and travel twice a year - which has become the rule rather than the exception when on holiday. So, when the consumer is finally at the supermarket, he simply chooses the cheapest piece of meat, so hypocritical!”

The Scottish Farmer:

Tractors filled the streets during peak morning rush hour (PC: Anton Bartelen)

Robert Ten Kate was one of the organisers behind the protest and stressed that farmers had been pushed to the limit and had no choice but to take a stand: "In hindsight, you could sort of feel this farmer’s demonstration coming in the months before the protest, the frustration amongst farmers had been piling up for a while.

“Over 150 animal rights activists had broken into a pig farm, failing nitrogen emission legislation and in the end, a member of the Dutch House of Representatives – and former CEO of the biggest Dutch dairy association - said that we should ‘remove’ half of all chickens and pigs in the Netherlands in order to build houses and infrastructure because of that failing nitrogen legislation.

“That was the straw that broke the camel’s back for most Dutch farmers,” he explained. “And not only for pig and poultry farmers, also for dairy farmers and arable farmers as well, even biological farmers. It created a grim atmosphere leading up to the demonstration.”

Robert explained that the farmers still believed there to be a connection between the public and the farming industry and decided to come up with an idea to reinforce this connection during the protest:

“I was having dinner with two dairy farmer friends of mine, discussing what we could do in order to express that sense of connection. And suddenly, we all thought ‘Hey - hundreds of tractors drive to The Hague on the first of October and what if we go and collect toy tractors and donate them to poor children in the city?’ An idea was born and the very next day we pitched it for other farmers and companies, and they were thrilled,” he enthused.

“We soon found out that our idea resonated with a lot of people and companies because they wanted to express their frustration and concern in the demonstration but were worried about the tone of voice of the whole event. This gave them an opportunity to be involved in the demonstration but also do something nice for people,” he continued.

“Within a week we already received hundreds of brand-new toy tractors from every corner. On the demonstration itself we received another couple of hundred toys from farmers who attended the demonstration, and, in the end, we donated more than 1200 toys to a foundation in The Hague. It was heartwarming and it really complemented the event that day.”

The Scottish Farmer:

Over 1200 tractor toys were donated by Dutch farmers (PC: Robert Ten kate)

Agriculture minister Carola Schouten promised the protesters on Tuesday that as long as she was minister there would be no halving of livestock. “We are working for a strong agricultural sector with an eye on a healthy environment,” Schouten told the farmers.

Dutch farmer Anton Bartelen attended the protest and gave the SF an insight into the day’s proceedings: “Everything came together yesterday (Tuesday, October 1) in The Hague; cattle farmers, pig farmers, arable farmers, vegetable growers, feed manufactures and other interested parties. Shoulder to shoulder, you could read the pride in their eyes - goosebumps! The protest was in The Hague, the political heart of the Netherlands, and the city of justice in Europe.

“Thousands of farmers from all over the Netherlands came to the meeting,” he continued. “Throughout the country, farmers caused traffic jams - it was the longest morning peak ever - but all people along the road supported the farmers' action. The public on the side of the road were waving with a big smile at the farmers, the truck drivers and the car drivers honked happily. Hikers and cyclists stayed on the viaducts despite the heavy rain and wind to wave at the farmers who came by on their tractors.

“The atmosphere was very good, everything was left tidy and all went to plan,” he insisted. “The police perfectly supervised the meeting and helped the farmers on their journey through the country. The beginning of the change in politics, in discussions and in the way, farmers are seen in society. Farming does matter,” urged Anton who is also the chair of his local young farmers association.

The Scottish Farmer:

For those too far from the Hague, Dutch farmers took to the beaches in protest (PC: Anton Bartelen)

Anton went on to explain that there was a hesitance by the farming community about the protest to begin with, but this was short lived:

“The protest was an initiative of ‘Farmers Defense Force’. But many farmers created group apps locally to inform each other and encouraged each other to participate. Most only heard about the protest only two / three weeks in advance. The first reactions were somewhat reserved. For some farmers, the name ‘Farmers Defense Force’ was somewhat aggressive and there were concerns the campaign could have a negative impact on the image. However, it turned out to be a playful and peaceful protest and the need for it became evident, because something must be done!” he urged.

“Despite all of the difference across the farming sector, we are stronger together. A lot of criticism is thrown at agriculture without any discussion. This has to change, because farmers fulfill a lot of different activities in society, but cannot solve all the problems of the country,” he concluded.

Aberdeenshire farmer Craig Dickson stressed that there is a growing appetite for a similar protest to take place in Scotland: “A lot of farmers in this area are happy to take to the main roads in protest. We need the farmers down Edinburgh and Glasgow way to be interested, as they are the ones with the ability to drive right up to the parliament building and protest.”