Farmers have these options to emit less nitrogen | NOW

The nitrogen problem leads to stress, sadness and anger among farmers. Angry or not, the government’s plans to quickly reduce nitrogen emissions remain in place. Farmers must therefore reduce their emissions, but how? discusses a number of options.

Option 1: Buy Out/Quit

The first and most rigorous option: buy out. Farmers hereby stop their business and receive money for it. Two schemes have been set up for this: a national and a provincial one.

Under the national measure, farmers receive money to stop their business, with the aim of reducing nitrogen emissions. The subsidy desk for this will open later this year. The provinces do things differently: they look at buying a company. This concerns the purchase of so-called ‘peak loaders’, farms with a high nitrogen load on Natura 2000 areas.

Although in both schemes farmers receive money to stop their business, the aims, means and the implementer of the scheme differ. There is, however, one important agreement: buying out is always voluntary. “There will never be a hint of obligation,” clarifies a spokesperson for the Interprovincial Consultation (IPO).

Option 2: Customize

The second option is customization. So the farm will not close and things will not be completely overhauled either. An adaptation could be, for example, to feed animals less protein. “By feeding differently, a livestock farmer can reduce nitrogen emissions by up to 20 percent,” says researcher Gerard Migchels of Wageningen University & Research.

Furthermore, the farmer can choose to dilute the manure to be spread with water, put cows out into pasture more often and reduce the amount of young stock. Although these measures seem small, according to Migchels, major steps can be taken with them. “If you implement this package (including feeding animals differently, ed.), the nitrogen emissions are roughly 30 to 40 percent less.”

Option 3: Turn things around

The last option is somewhere in between the first two: we’ll keep things open, but we’re going to do it differently. An example of this is a transition from traditional ‘conventional’ agriculture to organic farming. “A farmer then fertilizes less and has fewer cows per hectare. In some cases this means that you can cut emissions in half,” says Migchels.

However, he emphasizes that such a step is not painless. “Suppose you do that on your current land. Then fewer cows go into the barn, but it is still the same size and expensive (they are often financed by a bank, ed.). How do you solve those capital costs?” , Miguels wonders aloud.

Another option he mentions is so-called multifunctional agriculture: reducing the number of animals on your farm and combining it with another service. Think of camping on a farmer’s property, or childcare at the farm. “But whether that is possible depends on where you are and the personality of the farmer. Not everyone is waiting for a daycare in their yard,” said the researcher.