During the protest, they presented the minister with her ‘letter of resignation’. Their protest led to strong criticism because the peasants invaded the private sphere of the minister. Her spokeswoman said they were crossing a ‘red line’, calling it unacceptable.
Why did you go to the Minister’s house on Friday night?
‘As farmers, we are not heard. For three years we have put forward all sorts of ideas to solve the nitrogen problems. But no matter what we say – nothing is done about it. As a result, a hardening has slowly crept into us. ‘
But does it not go over a limit? The minister’s family has nothing to do with it. Her children, she said, were shaking in the house.
‘I know it’s a big influence to approach someone on their private property. But you have to understand that we feel almost the same. Because the government is also entering our homes, our shipyards and our children. Families have sometimes lived on a farm for three, four, five generations, and suddenly the government says: you are redundant, you do not belong here. If you say such a thing to a farmer, you will not only affect his property, but also his privacy, himself. Our work, that’s our life. If that happened to you, would you not also resist beaks and claws? ‘
‘And the fact that those kids were sitting there shaking in the house – it was not that bad. They were about sixteen or eighteen. Her daughter came out to pick up some friends. ‘
How did this action occur?
‘It was an initiative of me and another farmer. After the nitrogen plans were announced last Friday, we said to each other: something needs to be done now, we need to speak out. We did not think about it for long. We knew that the pastor of the village lived eight miles away. We thought it would be a good idea to go home to her. If you do not want to hear, feel free. We also knew that we could quickly recruit a lot of people. We are all on alert. ‘
How did you recruit people back then?
‘Since the farmers’ protests, 400 people have joined two WhatsApp groups. I have written: we are in the process of action and we are staying close. I did not say where we were going. Forty man said: let’s go with them. Then we met on my farm and I told them we were going to pay the Minister a visit. They thought it was a good initiative. No one gave up. We asked in advance to keep it tidy. So no violence, no intimidation. Then we set out with thirty tractors. I rode in front. ‘
What happened? Were there police?
‘None. I think we surprised her with this. Her husband came out. I had parked my tractor pontifisk in front of the gate. With his hands up, he motioned for me not to go any further. I stopped and asked if the minister was home. She came out barefoot. She did not look scared, she just shook our hand. Then we talked for half an hour. No bad word was said. No one has had to raise their voice. The special thing was that we let each other talk out. ”
You state that there was a calm mood, but the videos show that farmers started shouting angrily. Isn’t that scary?
‘It is something else. We had just had the talk when another group of farmers arrived on tractors. At that point, the minister said it was ready and she was going in. But that group also wanted to have its say. I then worked as a broker. In the end, everyone left. ‘
Should your own pet also shrink due to the nitrogen plans?
“I live between nature reserves, but I have made adjustments before, so I do not expect to have to reduce. This action is not self-interest. I stand up for all farmers in the Netherlands. During our conversation, the Minister acknowledged that the government has made many mistakes in this file. She admitted it freely. Although she was adamant about her job: “I did not get the impression she was going to cancel everything next week.”
What kind of reactions do you get from the farmers?
‘I’ve been getting thumbs up and muscle emojis all Saturday. Only one farmer told me he thought it was going too far. I think we’ve been cute for too long. In my region, people with a higher job are sometimes looked up to. People think one should not have a big mouth. But I’m past that point. I have had very hard years; I’m bankrupt. I’m very hardened by that. I’ve been disappointed too often by superiors to be polite now. ‘
But must something be done to reduce those emissions?
»I compare it with the gas in Groningen and with the benefit case. In recent years, farmers have been portrayed in the media as either environmental polluters or animal executioners. While we produce highly qualified foods. We are engaged in this work 24 hours a day. There are so many emotions in it. We may be less empowered and less well organized, but that’s just not true. Our nitrogen emissions must be reduced because houses must be built and infrastructure built. The peasants must bleed. ‘
Are you upset?
‘Not at all. We’ve been trying to be heard for three years and now everyone understands what it’s about within 24 hours. ‘