THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — Thousands of Dutch farmers massed in The Hague on Tuesday to demand more respect for their profession, many after driving in slow-moving tractor convoys that snarled traffic around the country.
Farmers staged a national day of protest as the Netherlands wrestles with efforts to drastically reduce emissions of greenhouse gases. A broad package of measures includes a plan to grant financial aid to farmers who want to cease operations or adopt more sustainable agriculture practices.
There is a lot at stake: According to the Dutch farmers’ organization, LTO, exports from the Netherlands’ nearly 54,000 farms and agriculture businesses were worth 90.3 billion euros ($98.3 billion) last year.
Among the farmers’ demands are that the government does not further reduce the number of animals they can keep and for an “independent party” to measure the carbon and nitrogen emissions that farms produce.
“This is about our families, our future, the future of our children. It’s about our way of life,” sheep farmer Bart Kemp, one of the protest’s organizers, told the crowd gathered in the Hague.
In an emotional speech, Kemp said lawmakers “miss the common sense – farmer’s sense – that nature and animals teach us.” He appealed for a “new era in which the food producers of the Netherlands are listened to” by lawmakers.
Organizers said on a website for the demonstration they also wanted to counter a “negative image” farming and farmers have in the Netherlands.
They said, “we are not animal abusers and environment polluters. We have a heart for our businesses.”
One of the partner parties in the country’s ruling coalition recently proposed a 50% reduction in the number of animals allowed on farms as a way to cut nitrogen emissions.
Agriculture Minister Carola Schouten said no such reduction would take place as long as she held her post. She pledged to listen to the farmers’ other concerns.
“We are working for a strong agricultural sector with an eye on a healthy environment,” Schouten told the farmers.
The Dutch motorists association, ANWB, reported that Tuesday was the busiest ever morning on the nation’s roads, with more than 1,000 kilometers (620 miles) of traffic jams blamed on convoys of tractors, bad weather and accidents.
Some farmers avoided the traffic by driving their tractors along the North Sea beach to The Hague. Others set off in the early hours of the morning and waited, honking their tractors’ horns, in long lines to get into the city.
Police sealed off roads heading into The Hague’s historic center and arrested at least one farmer for driving his tractor through a metal fence surrounding the protest site and a second for allegedly interfering with the arrest.
Cattle farmer Peter Boogards drove his tractor from the nearby village of Wassenaar to express his anger.
“We’re the only sector that has managed to reduce phosphate production by 20%,” he said. “Nobody listens to us, while we stick to agreements. We don’t like that.”