Thanks to decades of innovation and hard work, the Netherlands is one of the world’s largest agricultural exporters — but the looming climate crisis is an ever-present topic influencing the agricultural sector, and the Netherlands is no exception.
With groundbreaking innovations around every corner, the Dutch are renowned for their agricultural progress.
How did such a small country become a top dog in food export, and how are they dealing with the world’s changing climate?
The Dutch agriculture industry is growing
Dutch agriculture exports rose 17% last year, which amounts to over €120 billion worth of goods — a record year for the industry and a proud Dutch moment.
You might have already seen one of these videos in which the Dutch prowess in agriculture, food exporting, and innovation was shown:
So, what has generated such an expansion?
Exporting Dutch agriculture: what and where?
In 2021, Germany was the largest international consumer of Dutch bio-products (€26.3 billion), followed by Belgium (€12.1 billion), France (€8.6 billion), and the UK (€8.6 billion).
Ornamental plants and flowers are the hottest export items for the Netherlands, raking in about €12 billion in 2021. Dairy products, eggs, meat, and vegetables profit over €25 billion combined.
With tons of income, nevertheless, the Dutch are also becoming increasingly (and painfully) aware of the climate impact of the agri-export game. This is one of the factors that pushed quite a few interesting Dutch agriculture innovations into the spotlight.
Dutch innovations: Farming for the future
Innovation, in general, has always been a key part of Dutch culture and society and has really helped in developing more modernised farming methods in the lowlands.
The R&D (research and development) expenditure in the Netherlands has more than tripled in the past 30 years. That’s around 2% of the nation’s GDP! So, no wonder the Dutch have a reputation for being innovative and forward-looking.
In 2023 alone, the Netherlands is expected to spend more than €12,400 on R&D and innovation.
‘‘But how exactly are the Netherlands being innovative when it comes to farming?’’ We hear you ask. Here are our three favourite examples that also help the agriculture sector become more sustainable.
Sustainable Dutch bananas from greenhouses
The University of Wageningen grew its first crop of locally grown Dutch bananas using an alternative soil composite made of coco peat and rock wool. The process makes sure no fungus makes its way into the product through bad soil and overall creates a more efficient and effective banana growing process.
It’s examples like these that give us hope regarding the current global climate crisis — at least we know there are people out there doing their part! 🌏
Using food waste to feed farm animals
Naturally, with a globally increasing demand for meat comes a constant need to feed livestock. Although veganism is increasing in popularity, it also feels like it’s becoming a more polarising issue — as are most things. 🥲
But there is help. Dutch company Nijsen/Granico produce about 90,000 tons of animal feed a year entirely from human food waste and thus creates a far more sustainable meat production circle.
Isn’t it nice to know that even after being eaten, your food fuels another living being?
The floating farm in Rotterdam
In 2018, we wrote about Rotterdam’s new “floating farm“. The entire farm will be sustainable, feeding their cows with leftovers from local restaurants, collected by electric-powered trucks from GroenCollect.
The remaining feed needed will come from home-grown duckweed — how smart! Even the cow manure is collected and sold, making the floating farm quite sustainable. 💩
Dutch agriculture and the climate: Still a touchy subject
It’s no secret that the agriculture sector is one of the most problematic in terms of global emissions and climate change. That’s why the Dutch made an oath that goes a little like this: “producing twice as much food using half as many resources”.
Since the turn of the century, many farmers have reduced dependence on water for key crops by as much as 90%. Dutch farmers have also almost completely eliminated the use of chemical pesticides in greenhouses.
But there is still much to be done if the world is to feed 8 billion people AND save the climate by 2050.
The Dutch government previously aimed to cut its nitrogen emissions in half by 2030 but has since dropped these ahead of the November elections after a lot of backlash from farmers.
But the Dutch government isn’t fully abandoning their vision, as they also consider stopping subsidies for the most polluting companies in the Netherlands.
The high tensions between the government and the farmers were not making life easier for Dutch consumers, and the most recent clashes have brought increased attention to the impact of Dutch agriculture on the longevity of the planet.
Nevertheless, the Dutch innovative culture might give the environmentally concerned some peace of mind. After all, the top five agri-food companies in the world have bases in the Netherlands, so the way to global change is relatively short.
Are you impressed with Dutch agriculture? Or are there areas where the industry can improve? Tell us in the comments below!
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on February 28, 2019, and was fully updated in October 2023 for your reading pleasure.