Local Dutch farmers glad to be in Canada
While Dutch farmers cry in their barns, Ontario farmers don’t see doom and gloom here
WESTERN ONTARIO — Ontario farmers continue to be concerned about Dutch farmers as the Netherlands government presses ahead to shrink herd-size and impose fertilizer cuts — and now, expropriate 3,000 farms while paying out 120 % of market value for the properties.
Ratcheting up the pressure, the Dutch authorities in December revealed plans to forcibly buy out 3,000 operations in environmentally sensitive areas, though sweetened with reported above-market prices.
According to media reports, Dutch taxpayers will pay about $34.7 billion CDN on the farm buyout. Farmers subject to expropriation have until sometime in 2023 to accept the offer — or cease farming their property.
It’s all part of a controversial push by the Netherlands to curtail output of agricultural greenhouse gases as part of global climate change goals. The matter has been coming to a head since a 2019 high administrative court decision compelling the Netherlands to curtail nitrogen emissions in compliance with European Union law.
Ferocious farmer protests were triggered after the Dutch government’s June 2022 release of a plan to cut on-farm nitrogen emissions 50% by 2030 and to usher a reported 30% of farmers out of the industry.
Ontario farmers fear a similar anti-agriculture move in Canada following the Canadian government’s announcement last year to curtail fertilizer emissions by 30 per cent by 2030. Some Ontario immigrant farmers staged tractor rallies last year in solidarity with their Dutch cousins.
There are over 50,000 farms in the Netherlands, and Eastern Ontario farmer Marcel Smellink, originally from Holland, noted that only a small fraction will be eligible for the buyout. That leaves many farmers facing mposed herd cuts of up to 66 % or more.
“You see farmers crying in their barns,” Smellink said. A recent Dutch talk show highlighted one rural resident’s knowledge of three Dutch farmer suicides, he added.
Smellink said that farmers will face a $117,000 fine every three months until they comply. Individual Dutch provinces are rolling out the rules, he said, and not all at the same time.
What’s so disheartening for the Dutch farmers, he pointed out, is the vast amount of time and money — often borrowed — that they’ve plowed into their operations to comply with existing environmental controls over the last 30 years. But now it’s not enough.
Atwood-area dairy producer Koos Wilting, who immigrated to Ontario from the Netherlands in 1991, said his cousin managed to buy another farm in another area of the country “where probably these new rules won’t apply…. He might have been just in time buying it.”
Wilting also finds it hard to envision that Canada might pursue the same level of regulation here, given this country’s large size and vast areas of undisturbed wildland. If anything, there’s actually a shortage of manure for spreading on Ontario farmland, he added. In the Netherlands, farmers had to pay to get rid of manure, he said.
Rules have crept up in Ontario over the years, “but it’s not always for the worse,” he observed. “It’s very hard to tell” if Ontario agricultural regulations might one day become as onerous as those in the Netherlands.
Wilting expressed concern about rising fertilizer prices in combination with a Trudeau government push to cut fertilizer-related nitrous oxide emissions 30% by 2030. “You can only use so much less fertilizer … without losing yields.”
Elmira dairy producer Henk Schuurmans agrees. “There’s a lot of land that needs fertilizer in order to grow something on it, and there’s still a shortage of food … to cut back doesn’t make sense.”
Schuurmans, who immigrated in the 1980s and who still has farming cousins in the Netherlands, left “because it’s just too overcrowded” to expand the farm. Reports suggest the country’s livestock population density is four times that of the U.K.
The Dutch farmers’ “fate was on the wall for a long, long time,” Schuurmans said. He added that he wasn’t sure if the Dutch protests helped. “Everything is decided in the European parliament, not the Dutch parliament,” he said. “You can demonstrate all you want, but everything is decided in Brussels.”