European farmers fight for future of agriculture

Protests aimed at affecting policy, regulations

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KLEIN LUCKOW, Germany — Years of frustrations are driving European farmers to act against the mounting pressures their governments are foisting upon agriculture.

In recent months, increasing numbers of farmers throughout Europe have been taking convoys of tractors to the cities to gain the ear of those making the laws and regulations.

Arnoud Korrel is one of those agriculturalists, with ties to both the Netherlands and Germany, working to advocate for the industry he has spent his life in.

Korrel is involved with two farm organizations that are pressing for policy changes that affect agriculture: the Farmers Defense Force Germany and Landwirtschaft Verbindet Deutschland. For both organizations, he helps to organize actions and manage social media accounts.

“We are talking to all politicians and trying to get rid of the bureaucracy that is affecting agriculture,” Korrel said. “We are working to change the energy policies, too, as prices are too high because of taxes, and they don’t actually help fight climate change.”

Korrel grew up on a small farm near Amsterdam in the Netherlands. His brother took over the family’s farm and is milking 90 cows. Korrel moved to Germany and started his own 130-cow dairy in 2001, about 75 miles north of Berlin. Due to health concerns, Korrel sold his cows in 2021 but remains steadfast in the fight to preserve agriculture across the European Union.

“Most of the dairy farms in Europe are family businesses,” Korrel said. “There are more large farms in eastern Germany, the eastern EU and Ukraine. Every year, 2%-3% of the family farmers are going out of business, and the big farms are growing.”

Urban sprawl also presents an issue for farmers throughout Europe, according to Korrel.

“In most countries every day, streets with houses and green energy plants are being built,” Korrel said. “So, less farmland means less place to spread manure and less place to grow grains.”

Korrel said the dairy industry is not the only sector of agriculture being impacted.

The fruit, vegetable, beef, egg and hog industries have all declined nearly 25% in the last few years, driven by deteriorating prices, increased laws and regulations, and uncertainty about the future, Korrel said.

According to Korrel, protesting truly began as early as 2019 in the Netherlands and commenced shortly thereafter in Germany. 

Protests were driven by increasing regulatory burdens being placed upon farmers relating to climate change under the European Green Deal — policy initiatives aimed at the goal of reaching climate neutrality by 2050.

“In the Netherlands, the government says the problem is nitrogen, and they want to get rid of at least half the animals,” Korrel said. “In Germany, the government wants to reduce nitrates in half the agricultural fields, but the data they use is not correct. The nitrates do not only come from agriculture.”

Korrel said the European Green Deal created issues for agriculture.

“It calls for reducing 50% of the spraying and fertilizer use,” Korrel said. “They also want to have 30% organic farming and take 10% of fields out of production.”

Korrel said what is not taken into consideration by the majority of the population is that those products no longer being produced in the country need to come from somewhere through trade treaties and, frequently, from countries without the same strict environmental regulations farmers in the EU are facing.

“Ukraine pushes cheap products into the EU, so sometimes farmers from Poland and Germany are blocking the border and also ports in other countries,” Korrel said.

Besides the environmental regulations being imposed on farmers and the trade practices, Korrel pointed to the undue tax burden that farmers face to operate their farms.

“A law was passed in December that we (German farmers) are not getting 21 cents from our petrol diesel taxes back,” Korrel said. “The taxes are now 50 cents plus another 30 cents of value-added tax — 80 cents — per liter. The main taxes are to make the highways and get them in good shape, but the tractors drive on the land.”

Korrel said that diesel costs him 1.80 euros per liter ($7.33 per gallon), with the tax credits no longer being returned to farmers beginning in 2024.

According to Korrel, thus far, the protests in Germany and the Netherlands seem to fall on deaf ears, and that is why he thinks participation is continuing to increase.

Korrel said more than 100,000 people, over 30,000 in Berlin alone, were estimated to have taken part in the protests that took place Jan. 8.

During those protests, Korrel said farmers have been joined by citizens and companies concerned with the direction their countries are headed.

“Everything is getting too expensive — energy, petrol, steel, cars — for people,” Korrel said. “They just can’t afford it.”                                                                                                 

The farmers who protest are doing so not to make life difficult for their fellow citizens but to draw the attention of the government, Korrel said.

“Very often we are driving or blocking on the highways and the big cities,” Korrel. “That is the best way to protest without damage to the citizens and companies but to seek action from politicians. We want to make them talk to our farmer organizations.”

Governments throughout the EU are not receptive to the measures of which farmers are resorting to make their voices heard, Korrel said.

“They already forbid the protests with tractors in the city in the Netherlands,” Korrel said. “They might ban protests with tractors in Germany too. Blocking is mostly only allowed for half an hour or on one side of the road. In Germany, you must ask an official before blocking.”

Korrel said political agendas seem to be the reason for the animosity the government has shown toward the farmers expressing their concerns.

“The government is left-wing and has people from non-governmental organizations in it,” Korrel said. “They say the protests are right-wing and try to forbid it. They let the media make it look like bad people are protesting. But everywhere we go, the citizens are asked, and 90% of them say they are OK with the protests.”

From June 3-4, just before the EU elections, a large protest is planned in Brussels, Belgium. The aim is for farmers from across Europe to continue to share the plight of agriculture throughout the continent.

“In the big cities like Berlin and Munich, people are not aware of what the farmers are doing,” Korrel said. “They think all their food comes from the grocery store, and they don’t want to hear the truth. Agriculture is dying. That is why most of the countries are all in the protests now. In the EU, we are all connected, and we have the same problems. Together we are stronger.”

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