Protests against more environmental protection: farmers angry despite billion

The grand coalition wants to give the industry additional money. Nevertheless, the agricultural lobby wants to continue to fight environmental regulations.

Farmer protests against agricultural policy in Erfurt in January Photo: Martin Schutt/dpa

Despite the billions in aid for agriculture approved by the CDU/CSU and SPD, many farmers continue to protest against stricter environmental regulations. "We can’t be bought! Politicians must finally admit their mistakes," posted the movement "Land schafft Verbindung Deutschland" on its Facebook page on Thursday.

The initiative had mobilized tens of thousands of farmers in recent months to demonstrate against regulations to protect groundwater, insects and climate in agriculture. Dirk Andresen, spokesman for the association, again opposed the planned fertilizer regulation. The German Farmers’ Association called for "technical deficiencies" in fertilizer legislation and the insect protection action program to be corrected.

The grand coalition had agreed on Thursday night that the ministries of agriculture and environment should agree on new regulations on fertilizing by Friday. According to the resolution, the aim is to prevent the EU Commission from once again taking Germany to the European Court of Justice (ECJ) for not sufficiently protecting water from nitrate, a nitrogen compound from fertilizers that is potentially harmful to health and the environment.

In addition, the paper said, "To support farmers in the upcoming transformation process, we will provide a total of 1 billion euros for agri-environmental programs and investments over four years." Agriculture Minister Julia Klockner (CDU) promised to ensure that the "additional money" would arrive on the ground as easily as possible. German farmers currently already receive around 13 billion euros each year from the EU, the federal government and the states in the form of payments, tax rebates and subsidies for social insurance, for example.

Larger slurry storage facilities

With the new money, farmers could, for example, build larger storage facilities for liquid manure from their stables. Then there would be less pressure to apply the manure due to a lack of space even when the plants can’t absorb it as well, for example because of the weather.

"We won’t be bought!" warns the farmers’ protest movement "Land Creates Connection"

A large part of the farmers denies, however, that they fertilize too much at all. The ECJ had condemned Germany in a first trial only because the federal government had reported false or distorted nitrate readings to Brussels. This is contradicted by statistics from the Federal Environment Agency, according to which around 90 kilograms of nitrogen regularly escape per hectare of agricultural land each year.

Many farmers also do not believe that they are largely responsible for insect mortality. For this reason, they reject the German government’s plan to ban weed killers and certain insecticides in nature reserves. "Land schafft Verbindung" warns that the new environmental regulations would cost farmers a lot of money and force numerous farms to give up.

Criticism from Greenpeace and the Greens

The "farmer’s billion" that has now been approved is intended to help compensate for revenue shortfalls. But it is unclear whether the money will be enough. Greenpeace and the Greens condemned the fact that taxpayers would now have to pay for the failures of the agricultural lobby. "So anyone who illegally pollutes the environment and groundwater for years and then screams long enough will be given," criticized Friedrich Ostendorff, agricultural policy spokesman for the Greens in the Bundestag.

It is unlikely that the federal government will defuse the new fertilizer ordinance. The risk is too great that Germany would end up having to pay up to 850,000 euros a day in fines to the EU.

The coalition also agreed to make it easier to extend short-time working allowances to 24 months in industries with severe structural problems.

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