Dutch farmers are angry. At issue: the policy of reducing nitrogen emissions. Farmers have been protesting regularly since June 10 and the government’s announcement of plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Facts. On Monday July 4, responding to a general call launched on social networks, and in particular by the Farmers Defense Group, farmers, supported by fishermen, began to block with tractors the distribution centers of several supermarkets, leading to shortages in signs.

Clashes soon arose. Dutch police said they fired warning shots on the evening of July 4, without causing any injuries but hitting a tractor, on the sidelines of actions by farmers against this government plan. “Around 10:40 p.m. tractor drivers tried to collide with officers and police vehicles”, in Heerenveen (North), explained the police on Twitter. “A threatening situation arose. Warning shots were fired and targeted shots were fired,” she added. “A tractor was hit” and three people were arrested, she said, adding that an independent investigation had been opened into the police shootings.

The Dutch police had indicated on June 29 that ten people had been arrested the day before in the east of the Netherlands following overflows on the sidelines of actions by farmers. The individuals were arrested for open assault – including against police officers – highway blocking and attempted manslaughter, law enforcement said in a statement.

A protest outside Parliament in The Hague was relatively calm on the afternoon of June 28 but protesters then attacked a police van near Stroe (centre), according to video released by public broadcasting Dutch (NOS). It shows protesters attacking a police van, smashing the vehicle’s windshield and kicking the rear view mirror. Thousands of farmers had converged on Stroe last week driving their tractors. Protesters also set fire to tires on the freeway, NOS reported.

On the evening of June 28, demonstrators also violently broke through a police roadblock near the home of the Dutch Minister for Nature and Nitrogen Christianne van der Wal in Harderwijk, who presented this plan with Prime Minister Mark Rutte. Several Dutch ministers and MPs have expressed outrage over actions and attempts to intimidate demonstrators, which have created dangerous situations on the roads.

As Les Echos points out, the retail trade association assesses the losses at “tens of millions of euros” when the supermarket chain Coop estimates that it alone suffered damage of “several million euros” because of these blockades. Most were lifted on Wednesday July 6, but these radical actions forced LTO, the main Dutch agricultural lobby, to publicly disassociate themselves from the troublemakers.

Why it matters. Dutch farmers oppose government plans to reduce nitrogen emissions. More than 24 billion euros are dedicated to this plan, a large part of which will go to the agricultural sector, recalls Les Echos. Pressed by the highest administrative court in the country, the Dutch government was forced to present this vast project to reduce nitrogen emissions into the air in order to preserve its Natura 2000 classified nature reserves. Nitrogen is a compound of ammonia and pollutes the air and waterways. It is notably at the origin of green algae and can be transformed into fine particles. Concretely, the government wants to reduce nitrogen discharges: up to 70% in 131 key areas in order to achieve environmental objectives in 2030.

For farmers, this plan means a 40% drop in emissions and around 30% less livestock, according to Dutch media. They therefore consider the government’s objectives too ambitious and at risk for the survival of the sector. Farmers say they are being unfairly targeted compared to big business and industry, and many vow to resist any plans to downsize or close farms.

“The objectives set are impossible to achieve. In addition, there is too much focus on reducing the number of animals and the expropriation of farmers instead of looking at ways to manage farms differently,” says LTO. “This plan should disrupt an entire economic ecosystem centered around livestock farming. The risk of reducing national production is to increase imports to continue to run these infrastructures”, notes Alessandra Kirsch, director of studies at Agriculture Strategies, interviewed by Les Echos. Faced with the scale of the crisis, a mediator was appointed: Johan Remkes, a former minister. Yet it was he who pushed the state into this project to reduce nitrogen emissions, recalls the economic daily.

The context. The Netherlands, the second largest agricultural exporter in the world after the United States, is one of the biggest emitters of greenhouse gases in Europe – and of nitrogen in particular. A situation partly due to the many herds that graze on its plains. The small, densely populated country of 17.5 million has a large animal population: nearly four million cattle, 12 million pigs and 100 million chickens.