On the 150th anniversary of the Irish Potato Famine, where starvation killed one million Irish, then British Prime Minister Tony Blair issued a statement that was taken as an apology by Her Majesty’s Government, for turning a potato blight into a human disaster.
The Blair statement blamed “those who governed in London” for the tragedy inflicted on the Irish. “The famine was a defining event in the history of Ireland and Britain. It has left deep scars,” Blair said. “That one million people should have died in what was then part of the richest and most powerful nation in the world is something that still causes pain as we reflect on it today. Those who governed in London at the time failed their people.”
In history, famine has often been the result of government policies gone wrong. Governments often make silly stupid decisions even while thinking they are the smartest people on earth.
When it comes to agriculture, we all should be willing to throw down a caution flag if something is proposed or occurring that may have ramifications that threaten food production. In the Netherlands, which I’ve visited twice in the last four years, the government is serious about implementing a perplexing policy decision.
It might mean “closing” two out of three Dutch farms in the name of cutting nitrogen emissions in half by 2030. It’s part of the Dutch government’s plan to reduce carbon emissions. Farms in the Netherlands are said to be second only to those in Malta for nitrogen emissions because of the use of fossil fuels and animal wastes that produce ammonia.
During visits, I’ve been impressed with Dutch farms. Agriculture in the Netherlands is significant. It represents eight or nine times more production than Malta. Significant tempering with agriculture production should at a minimum require an Environmental Impact Statement.
That said, the ruling Christian Democrats along with Liberals plan to buy out 3,000 farms. That’s the perplexing part because they could just wait. There are more than 45,000 fewer farms in the Netherlands today than in the year 2000, according to the government’s own statistics.
The agriculture census has dropped to 52,207 farms today from 97,389 in 2000. That’s an average yearly loss of 2,264 farms. The Dutch government, which now the European Commission has lined up behind the farm take-over plan, is focused on livestock farms and taking control of the land.
Agriculture production accounts for one-seventh of annual exports from the Netherlands, including flowers and plants along with dairy and meat productions. Only the United States ships out more agricultural products to the world.
The Dutch government is making 32 billion euros available to accomplish its nitrogen reduction targets, which could mean farm buyouts in the 1 million euros range.
The Dutch are experiencing some political upheaval over this and the farm block has made some gains. But these multiparty Democratics don’t change quickly. And a majority of Dutch, who live in mostly cities, are likely in favor of the ruling party’s green agenda.
It’s also come up that about one-third of nitrogen emissions in the Netherlands originate in Belgium, Germany and England.
This may all be necessary, but we could also be years down to road when a future Dutch PM will have to issue one of those apologies.
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