It took an existential threat to turn a fifth-generation dairy farmer into an anti-government protester.

Bart Kooijman raises 120 cows on 50 hectares in western Holland. If authorities push ahead with plans to halve nitrogen emissions from agriculture by 2030, his could be among thousands of farms that will have to shrink or close.

In an attempt to quell a summer of fury, which saw farmers setting hay bales ablaze and dumping manure on motorways, the government said in November it would buy out as many as 3,000 of the biggest emitters in a voluntary one-time offer, setting aside €24.3 billion ($25.6 billion) to fund the transition. Those who refuse will be forced out of business.