New steps to tackle nitrogen pollution offer prospects for farmers

The government has announced new measures to tackle nitrogen pollution. All sectors, including farming, will have to contribute to these efforts. For farmers who wish to continue farming, €172 million will be made available to help them innovate, and to make their livestock housing more sustainable. The government will also set up a transition fund to help farmers who want to make their operations circular. Funding will also be available to make livestock farms near Natura 2000 areas less intensive. The government is setting aside a further €350 million for a voluntary buy-out scheme for livestock farmers, as well as extra money for all pig farmers who subscribed to the pig production cessation scheme and meet the requirements.

These measures were announced today by Carola Schouten, Minister of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality. They are designed to restore and strengthen nature areas, and represent the next step in the effort to tackle nitrogen pollution. The minister also announced that coaches would be appointed to give farmers individual support in introducing nitrogen-reduction measures or navigating the system of innovation and buy-out schemes. Over the next few months, government will organise regional meetings to explain the options to farmers, in collaboration with the provincial authorities.

It has also been agreed with the provincial authorities that uncontrolled buy-outs of livestock farms must be prevented. This is a prerequisite for the sale of emission rights released by the closure of farms, and it will also help keep rural areas liveable. National and provincial authorities are still considering the terms and conditions. As recommended by the advisory committee chaired by Johan Remkes, they do not plan to introduce licences for grazing and the application of fertiliser.

‘The future of farming is currently a much-discussed issue in many homes,’ says Carola Schouten, ‘and not only because of nitrogen pollution. Some farmers want to quit, but many more want to continue. The government wants to make both these things possible. Money will be available for farmers who want to continue, and to innovate. Farmers who want to end their operations will also get help from the government.’ 


Adapting livestock housing will help to significantly reduce emissions. The government will introduce a grant scheme to support investment in innovative and sustainable livestock housing. The idea is to tackle emissions at source, by quickly separating dung and urine, for example. What a farmer is willing and able to do will depend on his or her personal situation. That is why regional meetings and farm coaching will be organised to inform farmers and help them choose the right financial schemes and instruments. 

Transition fund and more land for extensification 

Farmers who want to make their operations more extensive (a lower livestock density, using more land) or more circular sometimes find it difficult to obtain the necessary finance. The government is working on a ‘transition fund’, based on ideas from a number of parties, to provide finance for circular agriculture projects. The minister will inform parliament how the establishment of the fund is progressing before the summer.
More extensive farming requires more land. The government is seeking ways of making more land available for this purpose. Land can, for example, be released when farmers quit or relocate their operations. The government is also looking at the possibility of using public land that belongs to, for instance the Dutch forestry commission Staatsbosbeheer or the Central Government Real Estate Agency, for agricultural extensification, provided this does not adversely affect existing nature areas. 

Closure of pig farms

The government previously made €180 million available for the restructuring of pig production in a scheme which, though focused on reducing odour nuisance, also reduces nitrogen deposition. A total of 502 pig farmers subscribed to the scheme. The Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality is currently assessing which applicants meet the requirements. The government has decided to help all applicants who qualify to wind up their operations, and to make extra money available for this purpose if necessary. 

Animal production rights

Ending farm operations reduces nitrogen emissions and deposition, provided the farm’s production rights are not used elsewhere. At the same time, enough rights must be retained in the market for farmers who want to expand their operations in a sustainable manner. The government has agreed that for the time being the production rights of livestock farms bought out by the government (both central government and provincial authorities) will be withdrawn and cancelled. When livestock farms are bought by private parties in order to acquire their emission rights, there is no direct link to animal production rights and they may thus be traded freely.

Leasing of unused rights 

The government wants to allow the ‘leasing’ of unused licensed animal production rights, and intends to work out the details of such a scheme with the provincial authorities. This means that businesses or farmers would be able to make some of the unused nitrogen emission rights in their licence temporarily available, for a fee, to projects that cause temporary nitrogen deposition, such as construction projects. This would make it possible to undertake new, sustainable, activities again. Anyone wishing to launch a new project requiring permanent deposition capacity would not be able to lease these rights.