Anger simmers for Dutch farmers who oppose pollution cuts
By Mike Corder in Maasland
MAASLAND, Netherlands (AP) — Bales of hay lie burning along Dutch highways. Supermarket shelves stand empty because distribution centers are blocked by farmers. Then, at dusk, a police officer pulls his pistol and shoots at a tractor.
Dutch farmers are embroiled in a summer of discontent that shows no sign of abating. Their target? Government plans to rein in emissions of nitrogen oxide and ammonia that they say threatens to wreck their agricultural way of life and put them out of business.
The reduction targets could radically alter the Netherlands‘ lucrative agriculture sector, which is known for its intensive farming, and may also foreshadow similar reforms — and protests — in other European nations whose farmers also pump out pollutants.
That turmoil seems a long way off Friday at Jaap Zegwaard’s dairy farm, which occupies 80 hectares (200 acres) of grassland close to the port city of Rotterdam, whose chimneys and cranes form a backdrop to his fields.
Most of Zegwaard’s herd of 180 cattle, mostly black and white Holstein-Friesians, graze in meadows close to a traditional Dutch windmill and large white wind turbines. And even if the farm has been in Zegwaard’s family for five generations, some 200 years, he doesn’t know if he would recommend the farming life to his a 7-year-old daughter and 3-year-old twin boys.
“If you ask me now, I’d say, please don’t even think about it,” the 41-year-old said. “There are so many worries. Life’s much too beautiful to deal with what’s going on in the agriculture sector at the moment.”
“Ask the average farmer: it’s profoundly sad,” he said.
At the heart of the clash between farmers and the Dutch government are moves to protect human health and vulnerable natural habitats from pollution in the form of nitrogen oxides and ammonia, which are produced by industry, transport and in the waste of livestock.
The Netherlands, a nation of 17.5 million people inhabiting an area a little larger than Maryland, has 1.57 million registered dairy cattle and just over 1 million calves being raised for meat, statistics show. The country’s farms produced exports worth 94.5 billion euros in 2019.
Nitrogen oxides and ammonia raise nutrient levels and acidity in the soil, leading to a reduction in biodiversity. Airborne nitrogen leads to smog and tiny particles that are damaging to people’s health.
When the Council of State, the country’s top administrative court and legislative advisory body, ruled in 2019 that Dutch policies to rein in nitrogen emissions were inadequate, it forced the government to consider tougher measures.
Unveiling a map detailing nitrogen reduction targets last month, the Dutch government called it an “unavoidable transition.” It said the coming year would finally bring clarity for Dutch farmers, “whether and how they can continue with their business. The minister sees three options for farmers: become (more) sustainable, relocate or stop.”
The Dutch government aims to slash nitrogen emissions by 50% by 2030 and has earmarked an extra 24.3 billion euros ($25.6 billion) to fund the changes. Provincial authorities have one year to draw up plans for achieving the reductions.
Nitrogen expert Wim de Vries, a professor at Wageningen University and Research, doubts that deadline is realistic.
“It seems to be very fast and there is a legacy, already for 40 years, because the problem was much bigger in the 1980s. We then called it ‘acid rain,’” he said. “Considering that legacy, it doesn’t make so much difference if we do it in 7 or 10 or 12 years. We anyhow have to wait for decades for nature to improve seriously.”
Farmers have been protesting for years against the government’s nitrogen policies, but the emissions targets unleashed new demonstrations, with tractors clogging highways and supermarket distribution centers that led briefly to some shortages of fresh produce.
Farmers also clashed with police outside the home of the minister in charge of the government’s nitrogen policies. And this week an officer opened fire on a tractor driven by a 16-year-old. After initially being held on suspicion of attempted manslaughter, the young driver was released without charge.
The Dutch government has appointed a veteran political negotiator to act as a middleman, but the gesture was immediately rejected by activist farmers and the nation’s largest farming lobby group.
“The government does not offer any space to enter into a real conversation,” said the farming lobby group LTO. “Under these conditions, speaking with the mediator is pointless.”
The LTO, which represents about 30,000 farms — nearly a half of the Dutch total — described the nitrogen reduction target as “simply unfeasible.” Dutch farms produced exports worth 94.5 billion euros in 2019.
The group says the government is focused on reducing livestock and buying up farms and not paying enough attention to innovation and sustainable farming practices.
Environmentalists say now is the time to act.
“You rip a plaster off a wound in one go,” said Andy Palmen, director of Greenpeace Netherlands. “Painful choices are now necessary.”
Zegwaard’s farm is in an area where the government is seeking only a 12% cut in emissions, yet he also demonstrates out of solidarity with others and supports the protests.
“The average person currently sees the Netherlands as a nitrogen polluter, while we are also a food producer. It seems like people have forgotten that,” he told The Associated Press.
Follow all AP stories on climate change issues at https://apnews.com/hub/climate.
11 states consider ‘right to repair’ for farming equipment
By Jesse Bedayn in Denver
DENVER (AP) — On Colorado’s northeastern plains, where the pencil-straight horizon divides golden fields and blue sky, a farmer named Danny Wood scrambles to plant and harvest proso millet, dryland corn and winter wheat in short, seasonal windows. That is until his high-tech Steiger 370 tractor conks out.
The tractor’s manufacturer doesn’t allow Wood to make certain fixes himself, and last spring his fertilizing operations were stalled for three days before the servicer arrived to add a few lines of missing computer code for $950.
“That’s where they have us over the barrel, it’s more like we are renting it than buying it,” said Wood, who spent $300,000 on the used tractor.
Wood’s plight, echoed by farmers across the country, has pushed lawmakers in Colorado and 10 other states to introduce bills that would force manufacturers to provide the tools, software, parts and manuals needed for farmers to do their own repairs — thereby avoiding steep labor costs and delays that imperil profits.
“The manufacturers and the dealers have a monopoly on that repair market because it’s lucrative,” said Rep. Brianna Titone, a Democrat and one of the bill’s sponsors. “(Farmers) just want to get their machine going again.”
In Colorado, the legislation is largely being pushed by Democrats while their Republican colleagues find themselves stuck in a tough spot: torn between right-leaning farming constituents asking to be able to repair their own machines and the manufacturing businesses that oppose the idea.
The manufacturers argue that changing the current practice with this type of legislation would force companies to expose trade secrets. They also say it would make it easier for farmers to tinker with the software and illegally crank up the horsepower and bypass the emissions controller — risking operators’ safety and the environment.
Similar arguments around intellectual property have been leveled against the broader campaign called ‘right to repair,’ which has picked up steam across the country — crusading for the right to fix everything from iPhones to hospital ventilatorsduring the pandemic.
In 2011, Congress passed a law ensuring that car owners and independent mechanics — not just authorized dealerships — had access to the necessary tools and information to fix problems.
Ten years later, the Federal Trade Commission pledged to beef up its right to repair enforcement at the direction of President Joe Biden. And just last year, Titone sponsored and passed Colorado’s first right to repair law, empowering people who use wheelchairs with the tools and information to fix them.
For the right to repair farm equipment — from thin tractors used between grape vines to behemoth combines for harvesting grain that can cost over half a million dollars — Colorado is joined by 10 states including Florida, Maryland, Missouri, New Jersey, Texas and Vermont.
Many of the bills are finding bipartisan support, said Nathan Proctor, who leads Public Interest Research Group’s national right to repair campaign. But in Colorado’s House committee on agriculture, Democrats pushed the bill forward in a 9-4 vote along party lines, with Republicans in opposition even though the bill’s second sponsor is Republican Rep. Ron Weinberg.
“That’s really surprising, and that upset me,” said the Republican Wood.
Wood’s tractor, which flies an American flag reading “Farmers First,” isn’t his only machine to break down. His grain harvesting combine was dropping into idle, but the servicer took five days to arrive on Wood’s farm — a setback that could mean a hail storm decimates a wheat field or the soil temperature moves beyond the Goldilocks zone for planting.
“Our crop is ready to harvest and we can’t wait five days, but there was nothing else to do,” said Wood. “When it’s broke down you just sit there and wait and that’s not acceptable. You can be losing $85,000 a day.”
Rep. Richard Holtorf, the Republican who represents Wood’s district and is a farmer himself, said he’s being pulled between his constituents and the dealerships in his district covering the largely rural northeast corner of the state. He voted against the measure because he believes it will financially impact local dealerships in rural areas and could jeopardize trade secrets.
“I do sympathize with my farmers,” said Holtorf, but he added, “I don’t think it’s the role of government to be forcing the sale of their intellectual property.”
At the packed hearing last week that spilled into a second room in Colorado’s Capitol, the core concerns raised in testimony were farmers illegally slipping around the emissions control and cranking up the horsepower.
“I know growers, if they can change horsepower and they can change emissions they are going to do it,” said Russ Ball, sales manager at 21st Century Equipment, a John Deere dealership in Western states.
The bill’s proponents acknowledged that the legislation could make it easier for operators to modify horsepower and emissions controls, but argued that farmers are already able to tinker with their machines and doing so would remain illegal.
This January, the Farm Bureau and the farm equipment manufacturer John Deere did sign a memorandum of understanding — a right to repair agreement made in the free market and without government intervention. The agreement stipulates that John Deere will share some parts, diagnostic and repair codes, and manuals to allow farmers to do their own fixes.
The Colorado bill’s detractors laud that agreement as a strong middle ground while Titone said it wasn’t enough, evidenced by six of Colorado’s biggest farmworker associations that support the bill.
Proctor, who is tracking 20 right to repair proposals in a number of industries across the country, said the memorandum of understanding has fallen far short.
“Farmers are saying no,” Proctor said. “We want the real thing.”
Jesse Bedayn is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.
New agri-processing tax credit to attract large-scale investment and diversify Alberta economy
Capitalizing on value-added agriculture
Alberta is introducing a new agri-processing tax credit that will help attract large-scale investment, diversify the economy and create jobs for Albertans.
As provinces and states across North America look to capitalize on the potential of the agri-processing industry, Alberta will build on the province’s competitive advantages by launching a new tax credit program in spring 2023. The program will ensure Alberta maintains a competitive edge over other jurisdictions and is able to maximize the number of opportunities that help grow the economy and create jobs.
Budget 2023 will introduce the Alberta Agri-Processing Investment Tax Credit to provide a 12 per cent non-refundable tax credit to support this growth and attract investment. To be eligible, corporations must make a minimum capital investment of $10 million in value-added agri-processing in Alberta.
“Agriculture has been a key part of Alberta’s economy for more than 100 years and I’m excited to see this tax credit program roll out so that it continues to be a key part of our economy in the future. Alberta’s agricultural producers play an important role in feeding the world and I look forward to seeing further innovation and growth in this sector.”
“Alberta has the fundamentals to take our value-added agriculture industry to new heights and meet the increasing global demand for food. The new agri-processing tax credit will allow us to attract large-scale agri-food projects that will help grow our industry, increase opportunities for primary producers, create jobs and feed the world.”
As Alberta’s oldest industry, agriculture is foundational to the province’s economy and identity. Incentivizing large capital investments will ensure the sector remains strong for generations to come and capable of adapting to the economy of the future.
“The Alberta Agri-Processing Investment Tax Credit further positions Alberta as an attractive place to do business. By supporting this quickly evolving and increasingly competitive sector, this government is further encouraging investment that will create jobs and grow Alberta’s economy.”
“With the introduction of the agri-processing investment tax credit, Alberta has positioned itself to attract more large-scale sector investments than ever before from companies like mine. This is the right way for Alberta’s agri-food sector to support diversification, create jobs, compete and win.”
“Alberta is widely recognized in the business community for its competitive tax rates, skilled workforce and strong primary agriculture sector. By offering a 12 per cent tax credit to agri-food processors making a minimum investment of $10 million, Alberta is maintaining its status as a top destination for value-added agricultural projects.”
“Population growth, a changing climate and increased costs of food are all indicators that food security will be a growing challenge. The new agri-processing tax credit program is a great incentive that will continue to highlight rural Alberta as the home of an innovative agriculture industry that plays a vital role in supporting food production.”
- Food manufacturing sales reached a record $20.1 billion in 2021 and the sector employed 22,400 Albertans.
- The food manufacturing sector was the largest manufacturing industry in the province, accounting for 23.8 per cent of total provincial manufacturing sales in 2021.
- Global demand for food is expected to increase by up to 56 per cent by 2050.
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