Dutch farmers are at the top of their game when it comes to making their mark on the world stage. Having travelled to the US, Mexico, Brazil and New Zealand earlier in 2016, it was clear from speaking with various stakeholders of the farming industry, such included trade negotiators, agri policy makers, investors and farmers, that they see the Dutch as having positioned themselves as global leaders in the agricultural sector. Not only by just focusing on their food export market, but also in the exportation of agri-technology, skill set and R&D.
With a desire to find out more about the Dutch and their agricultural sector, I recently spent 10 days in The Netherlands meeting with farmers and other professionals to find out why the Netherlands is considered the place to be when it comes to agriculture and the food industry.
My journey in commenced on a farm near Aalten, near the German border hosted by fellow Dutch 2016 Nuffield Scholar Suzanne Ruesink.The day started with Suzanne giving me a briefing on Dutch agriculture over breakfast.
2016 Dutch Nuffield Scholar Suzanne Ruesink
The Ruesink Family
Suzanne Ruesink and French 2016 Nuffield Scholar Sylvain Haurat at Suzanne’s farm near Aalten on my first day in the Netherlands.
The Netherlands is the world’s second largest exporter of agricultural products, after the USA. Together with the USA and Spain, the Netherlands is one of the world’s three leading producers of vegetables and fruit. The country supplies a quarter of all the vegetables that are exported from Europe. The Dutch agricultural sector is diverse; and includes arable, dairy, pig and poultry, bulbs and flowers, vegetables and fruit.
Putting this into figures, the total value of Dutch agricultural exports was € 82.4 billion in 2015. The contribution of the Dutch agricultural sector, including trade and processing of products to the country’s GDP was around 10% in 2014.
The Dutch farming community is incredibly innovative, and this was something which I experienced and seen first hand on my recent trip. A few examples are given below.
New innovative poultry round housing
Roadside apple vending machines
Robotically driven feed pusher.
Djuke van der Maat at her farm with the first production of Dutch kiwis
A 2.4 Mega Watt Anaerobic Digestion Plant adjoined to a pig unit.
Automated feeding system
Robotic Milking Machines
Even specially designed rubbish bins for the cyclists
And Yes, even ‘Dutch Farmersgolf’. If you don’t believe me click here. I was lucky enough to have met with Peter Weenink, the inventor of the game who has a dairy farm and cheese production unit in Lievelde, a small village in the Achterhoek region.
Perhaps given the above, it will be no surprise that Wageningen University is listed as the number 1 agricultural university in the world and for the third year in a row according to The National Taiwan Ranking of over 300 universities on scientific and research excellence.
Five of the top 26 global agri-food companies have R&D facilities in the Netherlands. Examples of recent private investments include; Danone which opened a large new R&D centre in Utrecht in 2013. Heinz opened its new R&D centre for Europe in Nijmegen and Royal Friesland Campina concentrated its R&D in a new centre in Wageningen that also opened in 2013.
Dutch agri-technology is exported around the world, from and including the dairy sector to tomatoes and flower production. The Dutch industry produces 80% of the world’s capacity of poultry processing machinery, and a substantial amount of cheese production machinery.
Visiting a dairy farm that had diversified into cheese production.
The majority of the country lies at or is situated below sea level with fertile soils suitable and able to support a large range of cropping. In the Netherlands relatively little acreage is available per farm compared to other countries and therefore all their soil needs to be kept in optimal shape for production. Ditches are regularly cleaned out and kept in immaculate condition!
Ditches are regularly cleaned out and cut.
It was the view of my many hosts that the Dutch agricultural industry has succeeded by maintaining its lead others by continually investing in the renewal of agricultural production chains. Farmers and growers are full partners in the agricultural production supply chain with a defined vision to produce food at an optimum price/quality ratio using innovative, socially responsible and sustainable methods.
Despite tight profit margins, agricultural businesses have invested substantially in environmental protection and implemented improvements in animal welfare. Conscious that the consumer is becoming ever increasingly inquisitive about where their food comes from, more farmers are developing innovative ways of making their sector more transparent. The Pig sector is currently under the spot light.
Young Farmers are at the heart of the agricultural sector and have a strong following. More than just a social organisation, they lobby, help define agri policy and influence the direction of their industry at a national level, and in Europe. I was lucky enough to attend one of their meetings.
I attended a Dutch Young Farmers Meeting, in which each person around the table represents a different farming sector.
The agri-business sector is one of the driving forces behind the Dutch economy. At the same time, it poses a huge challenge to the environment. In recent decades, farms have become larger in scale and production has become more intensive. As a result, fertilisers and manure produced from the dairy, poultry and pig sector has impacted on the countryside and water courses through runoff. Farming has had to become more sustainable. Today, the Dutch agricultural sector is strongly focused on sustainability, and this is an ongoing challenge which every farmer is aware of and willing to tackle, as the industry tries to balance its respect for farming, the landscape and the environment. All farmers which I visited didn’t complain about this being an issue, but talked about ways in which they could address it.
Looking back, on my first day in the Netherlands, I was interviewed by Dutch TV at Suzanne Ruesink’s farm and asked what my impressions were of Dutch agriculture before I explored the country and their farming sector further. I have to say that now I have spent 10 days or so meeting different members of the farming community, I understand why others around the world consider the Dutch to be amongst the leaders in agricultural sector.
The Dutch are driven people, problem solvers and opportunity seekers, and this shone through in every meeting I had. There is a real sense of people willing to work hard to make money, but having first developed the most efficient way of doing so. Perhaps this is the real reason why Dutch farmers, their produce, their technology, their skill set and their efficiency can be found operating all over the world.