Twenty years ago, dairy farmer Dean Verhoeven (54) left Geldong for Ohio, USA. His brother Marcel (53) stayed at his parents’ dairy farm. The contrast between the two farm lives at this time was huge. “Some here see us as environmental polluters and animal abusers,” says Marcel. “In America they are proud of their farmers,” notes Tune.
Mother Tiny Verhoeven (79) from Keltung sees differences between her sons growing up. “I think the situation of the Dutch farmers is alarming. Their future here has become very uncertain. My son Marcel in Geldang has it three times harder than my other son in America.”
“Everything is a war here: permits, surplus manure, milk allocation.”
Marcel loves his mother’s reaction. “Mainly regulatory pressure is what makes farming difficult and fun here. Everything is a battle: permits, fertilizer, milk allocation, everything is a battle.”
Unlike Ohio, Madison County, really big. Where Marcel has 130 cows at Keldonk, brother Teun has around 2000. Teun has 33 employees and Marcel runs the company alone. I don’t mind having to be ready 24 hours a day, seven days a week. I do it with love. Ten years of this hard work is better than earning less than average. That and farmers being seen as a pissing post is extra painful.”
“I’m getting paid for my fertilizer here instead of spending money on myself.”
From Ohio, Dean says immigration was his best decision. “It hurts to leave. It was hard at first because different rules apply here than what you’re used to, but after five years I found my way. The difference is mainly in space. Ohio has eleven million people and three times the size of the Netherlands, which is what they call overpopulated here. .”
“They don’t have a nitrogen problem here”, Deon continues cheerfully. “Actually, I get paid here for my fertilizer, which the farmers use to grow their crops. You have to pay to process your fertilizer surplus in the Netherlands.”
“I hope I can make the decision myself to stop farming.”
“Of course I thought about moving,” says Marcel from his stables in Keltung. “I don’t want to give up my Dutch life. I’m not going to look back. I made that decision with the knowledge I had at the time. I’m not going to advise my daughters to take up farming. It makes it difficult to invest in the future. I feel that I can decide for myself to stop the company and I’m not forced to.” I believe.”
Farm life in Ohio smiles at the Verhoeven family. Two of Tune’s sons are already fully involved in the company. “I saw this already happen in the ’80s with the fertilizer law and the nitrate guidelines. It’s only gotten worse since then.” He hopes that the Dutch will show understanding to their farmers and that there will be opportunities for their future.
“It would be nice if the Netherlands could be proud of its farmers again.”
In Geldong, farmer Marcel wonders how the world views Dutch farmers. “There is awe abroad. Here we innovate, we are an example of how you can produce efficiently and cleanly. The rest of the world uses it with gratitude. It would be nice if the Netherlands could be proud of its farmers again, not us. . . like half criminals.”
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