Bales of hay lie burning along Dutch highways. Supermarket shelves stand empty because distribution centres are blocked by farmers. Then, at dusk, a police officer pulls his pistol and shoots at a tractor.
Dutch farmers are embroiled in a summer of discontent that shows no sign of abating. Their target? Government plans to rein in emissions of nitrogen oxide and ammonia that they say threatens to wreck their agricultural way of life and put them out of business.
The reduction targets could radically alter the Netherlands’ lucrative agriculture sector, which is known for its intensive farming, and may also foreshadow similar reforms — and protests — in other European nations whose farmers also pump out pollutants.
That turmoil seems a long way off Friday at Jaap Zegwaard’s dairy farm, which occupies 80 hectares (200 acres) of grassland close to the port city of Rotterdam, whose chimneys and cranes form a backdrop to his fields.
Most of Zegwaard’s herd of 180 cattle, mostly black and white Holstein-Friesians, graze in meadows close to a traditional Dutch windmill and large white wind turbines. And even if the farm has been in Zegwaard’s family for five generations, some 200 years, he doesn’t know if he would recommend the farming life to his 7-year-old daughter and 3-year-old twin boys.