Science - February 14, 2013

'One third of the farmers will go under'

Farmers, local people and environmental organizations have reached an agreement on the future of livestock farming in Brabant. 'The crux of the agreement is to restore the relationship between farmers and the local community,' says Theo Vogelzang of agricultural economics institute the LEI. 'Farmers with something in mind have to draw up their plans in interaction with the local community - otherwise they won't get planning permission. That is a break with the past.'

What is in the agreement that is concrete?
'The agreement expresses several good intentions, but the only concrete thing in the concluding declaration is that in certain cases an area of farm buildings bigger than 1.5 hectares may now be considered. In exchange for this, livestock farmers must submit all their business plans for evaluation in terms of sustainability and impact on the landscape. For that a yardstick is required, which still has to be designed.'
How do you give the farmers' neighbours a say?
'Some municipalities already insist on livestock farmers informing the local community about their building plans in an information evening, but I don't think that is sufficient. I think you need to make concrete deals with the local community, expressed in a kind of zone-specific contract. The locals usually get worked up about whether plans blend into the landscape, about bad smells and about the health risks of particulate pollution. Another issue is the transportation of the animals. A livestock farmer can address these issues very concretely by installing an organic air filter and by making transport arrangements with the locals.'
Farmers who do not make their production more sus-tainable will no longer be getting planning permission. What is that going to mean for those businesses?
'The Van Doorn commission, which helped pave the way for this agreement, expects that half the businesses will close by 2020, and the surviving companies will expand. I foresee a division in intensive livestock farming, with some smaller companies catering for a niche market and big companies going for low-cost production. I think one third of the farms will go under between now and 2020. But if you ask me, the smaller family businesses may turn out to be more resilient than we think.' 

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