How the Netherlands Led a Food Revolution

The Netherlands is a small country.

It’s so small, you could fit it into the U.


two hundred and seventy times.

But it’s big when it comes to making food.

Remarkably it has the second largest agricultural exports in the world, mainly through being able to produce vast amounts of food on tiny plots.

The Netherlands isn’t exactly designed formass farming.

Because of limited space farmers have learned to eke out as much as possible from the land.

With a third of the country under sea level, the Dutch mastered how to make land using levees and built windmills to drain marshland to create fertile soil.

This area just outside of Amsterdam – Flevopolder – is the largest artificial island in the world and didn’t exist half a century ago.

Nowadays over half the ground in the Netherlands is used for agriculture.

It makes more food than it’s people can eat.

But there was a time when the Dutch faced starvation.

1944 – and the Allies begin to liberate Europe.

The Nazis occupy the Netherlands and begin a blockade of the North.

It created a food shortage so severe, theDutch Government encouraged its people to forage for acorns and chestnuts.

Tens of thousands perished from famine.

After the war, as the Dutch rebuilt, ensuring food security became a priority.

The issue was important to the new Minister for Agriculture Sicco Mansholt – a former farmer and a resistance fighter in the war.

He would begin to drive changes that would turn farming into big business.

Before the war, Dutch farms operated likethose in most other countries.

Small plots had a few livestock and produced a mixture of seasonal crops to service local populations.

Mansholt wanted mass production and built on a decades-long system of state support for farming.

He pursued a policy of land consolidation.

Larger, more productive farms were encouraged to absorb smaller, less profitable farms.

It was all about using less labor to improve yields.

In 1963 the Government launched a fund to help older farmers sell up and to help young farmers start new businesses.

State funding into research and technology such as fertilizers and machinery followed and thanks to aid from the US Marshall Plan, numbers of tractors rose quickly, helping farmers work more land.

Dairy production grew fast as cooling tanks and milking machines were invented.

In 1960 the average Dutch dairy cow wouldproduce 4200 kg of milk per year; in 2007 this had nearly doubled to 7, 880 kg.

Oversupply of milk wasn’t a problem – theDairy Board created Joris Driepinter and he encouraged kids to drink plenty of it.

But technical innovation didn’t stop withmachines.

The dutch pioneered specialist greenhouses, creating conditions that would result in many more plantings than ever before.

“These greenhouses are in the south western section of the Netherlands and they enable farmers togrow crops the year round.

” “With temperature and humidity carefully controlled, an elaborate water system keeps the cropsproperly moist” If you were to put all of the Dutch greenhousestogether today they’d cover an area the size of Manhattan.

“Farming under glass, another example ofdutch ingenuity!” Then there was a huge discovery in 1959.

The vast Groningen gas field would offer Greenhousehorticulture a huge boost.

Farmers profited from the cheap energy, astheir crops benefited from the heat and the added CO2.

The Netherlands now has the world’s highestyields per hectare for cucumbers, chili peppers and tomatoes; all carefully picked for theirprofitability.

Reducing water use is part of making efficienciestoo – today some farms use just four litres to grow a kilo of glasshouse tomatoes.

Theglobal average is 214 litres.

All this built on a rich culture of farmingthat already existed.

The Dutch were master breeders of plants and livestock and werea nation of traders thanks to the ports at Rotterdam and Amsterdam.

The State built on this expertise to transformfarming, including a focus on education and research, as part of a holistic approach tobenefiting the entire industry.

It hasn’t all been good though – The Dutchhave been criticized for getting ahead with over-intensive methods and using syntheticfertilizers to boost production.

They’re now working to change this In 1999 the country used more fertilizer thanany other European country, spreading on average 500 kilos per hectare.

By 2014 though, thefigure had more than halved.

By working together farmers, scientists, businessesand the state turned the Netherlands into a world leader in modern farming.

Its knowledge and state of the art technologywill be vital in tackling the future of a rising global population, with billions moremouths to feed.


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