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Agriculture

Anger simmers for Dutch farmers who oppose pollution cuts

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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.

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Agriculture

USAID head urges crisis-hit Sri Lanka to tackle corruption

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By Krishan Francis in Colombo

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) — A visiting U.S. diplomat on Sunday urged Sri Lankan authorities to tackle corruption and introduce governance reforms alongside efforts to uplift the country’s economy as a way out of its worst crisis in recent memory.

USAID Administrator Samantha Power told reporters that such moves will increase international and local trust in the government’s intentions.

“Assistance alone would not put an end to this country’s woes,” Power said. “I stressed to the Sri Lankan president in my meeting earlier today that political reforms and political accountability must go hand in hand with economic reforms and economic accountability.”

She said that international investor confidence will increase as the government tackles corruption and proceeds with long sought governance reforms. “As citizens see the government visibly following through on the commitment to bring about meaningful change, that in turn increases societal support for the tough economic reforms ahead,” she said.

During her two-day visit, Power announced a total of $60 million in aid to Sri Lanka. After meetings with farmers’ representatives at a rice field in Ja-Ela, outside of the capital Colombo on Saturday, she announced $40 million to buy agrochemicals in time for the next cultivation season.

Agricultural yields dropped by more than half for the past two cultivation seasons because authorities had banned the imports of chemical fertilizers ostensibly to promote organic farming. She said that according to the World Food Program, more than 6 million people — nearly 30% of Sri Lanka’s population — are currently facing food insecurity and require humanitarian assistance.

On Sunday, she said an additional $20 million will be given to provide emergency humanitarian assistance to vulnerable families.

Sri Lanka has faced its worst crisis after it defaulted on foreign loans, causing shortages of essentials like fuel, medicines and some food items.

It has reached a preliminary agreement with the International Monetary Fund for a $2.9 billion package to be disbursed over four years. However, the program hinges on Sri Lanka’s international creditors giving assurances on loan restructuring. Sri Lanka’s total foreign debt is more than $51 billion of which $28 billion must be repaid by 2027.

Power said that the U.S. stands ready to assist with debt restructuring and reiterated that it is imperative that China, one of the island nation’s bigger creditors, cooperate in this endeavor.

Infrastructure like a seaport, airport and a network of highways built with Chinese funding did not earn revenue and are partly blamed for the country’s woes.

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Agriculture

Saskatchewan warns that federal employees testing farmers’ dugouts for nitrogen levels could be arrested for trespassing

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An escalating battle between Western Premiers and the federal government over restricting the use of nitrogen fertilizer has reached a new level of tension.
Premier Scott Moe is demanding to know why federal employees of Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault are “trespassing” on private land in Saskatchewan.  Moe signed a strongly worded letter (below) from Jeremy Cockrill, the Minister in charge of Saskatchewan’s Water Security Agency.
The letter dated Sunday, August 21st states farmers from at least 3 different communities in southern Saskatchewan have reported Government of Canada employees in marked vehicles have been trespassing on their private land.  When confronted, the agents have admitted to testing dugouts for nitrogen levels.
On his official Facebook page Moe says “We are demanding an explanation from federal Minister Guilbeault on why his department is trespassing on private land without the owners’ permission to take water samples from dugouts.”
We are demanding an explanation from federal Minister Steven Guilbeault on why his department is trespassing on private land without the owners’ permission to take water samples from dugouts. We have received reports of this occurring in several places throughout our province.
We have advised the federal government that this should cease immediately and if it does not, it will be considered a violation of the province’s Trespass Act.
Violating this Act is serious, including a maximum penalty of $25,000 for repeat offenders, up to six months imprisonment following a conviction for a first or subsequent trespass offence, and a $200,000 maximum penalty for any corporation that counsels and/or aids in the commission of that offence.
Anyone wishing to report an incident of trespassing on private land can call 1-855-559-5502
Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe has already flatly said no thanks to a federal initiative to restrict the use of fertilizer by up to 30%.
Premier Moe is not alone in this battle with Ottawa.  Alberta’s Premier Jason Kenney has already weighed in on the nitrogen restrictions in this strongly worded video shared two weeks ago.

The letter from Saskatchewan comes on the heals of another strongly worded letter from Manitoba’s Agriculture Minister Heather Stefanson. In Stephanson’s letter to Prime Minister Trudeau, she says this is no time to cut food supply and raise the price of groceries.
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