Prime Minister Mark Rutte and other cabinet members want to meet with representatives of large concerns from the agricultural sector next Thursday, led by former minister Johan Remkes. Those companies financed the farmers’ protests, but now do not want to come and talk, according to a tour of NU.nl.

    It turns out that billions of companies in the agricultural sector are avoiding a conversation with the cabinet as long as no promises are made to the farmers. So far, only Rabobank and a representative of the supermarkets have joined the conversation.

    It is striking that the large companies, such as animal feed and dairy giants, are now refusing to enter into talks. They have fully supported the farmers’ protests against the nitrogen policy since 2019, also financially. For example, Bart Kemp’s Agractie action group received support from the animal feed company ForFarmers.

    “When I was still completely alone, I was approached by the director of ForFarmers Netherlands,” Kemp told NU.nl in 2019. “The company supported my goals and approach and jumped in at lightning speed.”

    There is a lot at stake for companies. If the government’s nitrogen plans go ahead, this is expected to lead to a significant reduction in livestock. If farmers keep fewer animals, that means less animal feed, fewer stables and less milk. And that means less turnover.

    The government wants companies to co-finance the transition to circular agriculture. To this end, a non-binding contribution is expected from banks, suppliers of, for example, animal feed and the processing industry, such as slaughterhouses.

    Negotiations between the cabinet and farmers on nitrogen policy seem to be heading for a long war of attrition. Last Friday, after the first conversation with Rutte and members of the cabinet led by Remkes, farmers’ organizations already expressed their dissatisfaction. Farmers Defense Force leader Mark van den Oever even threatened with “the hardest actions ever”.

    Cabinet must adjust goals timeline

    Dairy giant Royal A-ware (the maker of, among other things, Zaanlander cheese for Albert Heijn) received an invitation from Remkes at the end of July. The company will not comment on this “as long as the cabinet does not promise to follow a different course”, a spokesperson told NU.nl.

    According to the company, the cabinet has opted for an approach based on “incorrect assumptions”. The approach would not yield the intended result and would have “unacceptable consequences” for dairy farming, and thus food security and rural areas. According to the company, the cabinet must be prepared to adjust “targets and the timeline”.

    Royal A-ware has a turnover of 2.2 billion euros and makes a profit of 51 million euros. CEO Jan Anker is in the Quote 500 with equity of 120 million euros. The company has plans to expand a cheese factory in Heerenveen, for which permits have been applied for. That is why the group has every interest in ensuring that the livestock is not reduced.

    Another major player is animal feed company Royal De Heus (EUR 3.2 billion in turnover). That company already announced before the first meeting between farmers and the cabinet that it would not accept Remkes’ invitation. Only when the cabinet wants to discuss “the policy, the timetable for the measures and the method of nitrogen reduction” is the company prepared to join the conversation. A spokesperson informs NU.nl that De Heus will stick to this position and “at the moment” will not accept the invitation.

    Companies want the cabinet to come out with the farmers first

    Agrifirm agricultural cooperative, to which ten thousand farmers are affiliated and which supplies livestock feed, among other things, will not attend the consultations either. A spokesperson says that it is “first and foremost about the future of individual farmers and growers”. Only then does Agrifirm want to share its vision. In a statement, the company emphasizes the “need to protect the farmers’ revenue model” and “the opportunities that exist in the field of innovation”.

    The Netherlands Animal Feed Industry Association (Nevedi) follows the same line of argument as Agrifirm: the cabinet should first come to an agreement with the farmers. The spokesperson for Nevedi says that he will not accept Remkes’ invitation for the time being. First, “the commitment and framework of the discussion to the satisfaction of the farmers’ organizations” must be completed.

    The same sound comes from slaughterhouse giant Vion. The cabinet must first enter into talks with the “primary sector” (that is, the farmers). After “sustainable progress” from these talks, Vion is willing to join, according to a spokesperson.

    A spokesperson for moderator Remkes does not want to release the list of companies that have been invited for the meeting on Thursday, August 18. “We are still busy making an inventory and will make the discussion partners public once we have informed all participants.”

    Before Rutte and other cabinet members talk to industry representatives next Thursday, a meeting with nature and environmental organizations is scheduled for next Monday.

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