Dutch farmers form “freedom convoys” to protest against the government’s strict environmental rules

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Farmers in the Netherlands have formed their own version of Canada’s “Freedom Convoy”, blocking highways with tractors, setting hay bales on fire and taking other measures to protest the government’s recent goal of cutting emissions that could force some farms to close.

“Where is our prime minister? This country is on fire and the peasants are up against the government,” a spokesman for the protesters said as he stood on top of a hayloft in the town of Eerbeek last week, the Guardian reported.

About 40,000 protesters gathered in the central Netherlands to protest against plans to curb nitrogen and ammonia emissions last month. Weeks later, protests continue across the country with no signs of abating.

Photos and videos show farmers causing a motorway near Germany’s border to stop, and some Germans are said to have joined the protest. Hundreds of businesses in three cities were virtually shut down due to three different protests, the Guardian reported on Saturday. Meanwhile, some supermarkets have barren shelves due to farmers also targeting distribution centers earlier this month.

DUTCH POLICE SHOOTING A TRACTOR DURING THE GARDEN PROTESTERS

Farmers gather with their vehicles next to a border sign between Germany and the Netherlands during a protest on the A1 motorway, near Rijssen, on June 29, 2022 against the Dutch government’s nitrogen plans. – Netherlands OUT (Photo by Vincent Jannink / ANP / AFP) / Netherlands OUT (Photo by VINCENT JANNINK / ANP / AFP via Getty Images)
(VINCENT JANNINK / ANP / AFP via Getty Images)

Farmers say the protests are not meant to irritate their citizens and consumers, but to force the government to a referendum.

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The Dutch government aims to cut nitrogen and ammonia emissions by 50% by 2030 in an effort to improve air, land and water quality. The plans include cutting back on manure used on farms and reducing the number of livestock by an estimated 30%.

The country is one of the largest agricultural producers in the world, exporting around $ 97 billion by 2020 of fruits, flowers, vegetables, dairy products and meat.

“If you ask me now, I would say, please, do not even think about it,” said dairy farmer Jaap Zegwaard if he would recommend farming to younger generations. “There are so many worries. Life is far too beautiful to cope with what is happening in the agricultural sector at the moment.”

Farmers block the arrival and departure halls at Groningen Eelde Airport in Eelde, the Netherlands, to protest against the government's far-reaching plans to cut nitrogen emissions on 6 July 2022.

Farmers block the arrival and departure halls at Groningen Eelde Airport in Eelde, the Netherlands, to protest against the government’s far-reaching plans to cut nitrogen emissions on 6 July 2022.
(CHOICE OF THE VEEN / ANP / AFP via Getty Images)

“Ask the average farmer: it’s deeply sad,” he said.

Farmers say they are unfairly targeted by the rules, while other industries, such as aviation, construction and transport, also contribute to emissions and meet fewer rules. Farmers also claimed that they have not been given a clear picture of their future in light of the reforms.

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The convoys with tractors are a nod to Canada’s Freedom Convoys, the Guardian reported, which was held across Canada earlier this year to protest the nation’s strict coronavirus vaccine policy.

Fishermen in the Netherlands have also joined the protests, blocking the port of Harlingen with trawlers last week, EuroNews reported.

The demonstrations have become so widespread that the Rolling Stones’ frontman Mick Jagger gave a shout to the farmers in Dutch during an Amsterdam concert on Thursday.

The Dutch protests received more attention on Tuesday when the police opened fire on a 16-year-old farmer who was driving a tractor in the northern part of the country during a protest. The teenager is said to have moved his tractor towards the police, according to the German outlet Deutsche Welle. After first being arrested on suspicion of attempted murder, the teenager was released without charge. No one was injured in the incident, according to police.

The protests have been largely peaceful, with a demonstration about 600 km east of Amsterdam moving to the side of a road to allow two funeral trains to pass. Farmers at the protest also distributed food and coffee to police, the Guardian reported.

The nation’s prime minister, Mark Rutte, has meanwhile thrown out the protesters, including calling them “a-holes” in private company, according to the Guardian.

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“It is not acceptable to create dangerous situations. It is not acceptable to intimidate officials,” he said last week.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.