The Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food quality (LNV) is in line for the scrapheap or a merger with the Ministry of Economic Affairs. As a separate department for agriculture, it has outlived its usefulness, according to parties on both the left and the right. Is it a good idea to scrap LNV? And should Wageningen UR be worried?
Professor of nature management and plant ecology, WUR
'I would thoroughly approve of the ministry of LNV being split up over Economic Affairs (EZ), Health, Welfare and Sport (VWS), and Housing, Spatial Planning and the Environment (VROM). I have always thought it was strange to have a separate ministry for agriculture. After all, no other sector has one, does it? What is more, the agricultural lobby has quite a hold on the Ministry. In the 1970s and 80s, LNV stopped researchers from publishing evidence of the negative effects of the fertilizer surplus. That attitude delayed an adequate fertilizer policy by at least 10 years, causing a great deal of damage to nature in the Netherlands. And a publication in the NRC-Handelsblad last week revealed that in the mid-1980s, LNV put pressure on the Rotterdam PhD researcher Richardus not to publicize the risks of Q fever in goats.
'Early in 2000, I experienced the influence of the agricultural lobby myself. Our research shows that management agreements that farmers had made on the protection of meadow birds were having very little impact. LNV had me on the carpet straight away. In the foregoing period, people had tried to prevent us from carrying out the research. In financial terms, Wageningen UR stands to gain from keeping the Ministry of LNV, but on the other hand there are big social risks.'
Team manager Economics, Agriculture, and Industry at the Nature and Environment Foundation
'I don't think it's a good idea to scrap LNV. Nature and Environment seeks to bring about revolutionary change in agriculture. If you scrap the ministry, that change will never come. If you ask us, the education and research departments of LNV should go to Education, Culture and Science (OCW), and policy on food quality and safety and nature should go to VROM. That way, you keep a core ministry that can initiate a powerful movement for sustainable agriculture. At the moment we are taking small steps in the right direction, whereas what we need is a major intervention to bring change to the sector. In our model, Wageningen UR would fall under OCW. I don't see any problem with that. Wageningen UR is one of the best knowledge institutions in the Netherlands and has an excellent international reputation, so Wageningen can get on just fine without financial protection from LNV. Moreover, without LNV, Wageningen UR would have more freedom to work on a real breakthrough in agriculture.'
Chair of the Universities' Association (VSNU)
'I wouldn't put the research and education branch of LNV under EZ or OCW, but under a completely new ministry: Research and Innovation. Just like the one in Denmark. That would be real innovation. Universities and other research institutes in the Netherlands urgently need more coordination. Their funding comes from all over the place. Some of it comes through OCW, some from EZ, and some from sector departments such as VROM, LNV and Transport, Public Works and Water Management. And the government also allocates research money from its profits from natural gas. Altogether, it's an extraordinarily inefficient system and lacks transparency.
'So it would be a good idea for the government to pool those funds and bring them under one ministry which could then pay attention to the coordination of research. The great thing is that Wageningen and LNV are already working with this model in the areas of agriculture, nature and food quality. And with considerable success. I don't think it would be sensible to stop this. Wageningen is an example for other sectors.'
Chair of the Natuurmonumenten foundation, former chair of the executive board of Wageningen UR
'I don't think that scrapping LNV would work out well for Wageningen UR. Its direct lines with the Ministry of LNV are very important to Wageningen. Wageningen's revival after student numbers plummeted halfway through the 1990s was partly thanks to the financial input from LNV. The merging of Wageningen University and the DLO Institutes to form Wageningen UR created a tremendous surge of innovation. Where else in the world can you find such good agricultural research? Besides, Wageningen University is one of the fastest-growing universities in the Netherlands. If it works, don't fix it.'
Chair of the board of Wageningen UR: in the Agrarisch Dagblad's one-off publication Best.
'You should ask yourself why you would do that. Never change a winning team, certainly if you have no proof that the alternative works. And if we sweep away everything in one go, we'll lose a lot of good things too. And we won't get them back just like that.'
Caretaker minister of LNV: in Best.
'it is just like Sampson in the Bible: cuts the hair and you lose the power. The Netherlands is good at flowers and food, water and plant propagation material. Top of the bill, even. We must go on investing in those sectors, and that means that this department (LNV) should not be closed, nor brought under Economic Affairs.
'We have set up a golden triangle in the Netherlands. The lines between my ministry and green education and research are short, and in combination with sound enterprise, that is a national asset.'
University Professor of Sustainable development and food security
'I don't see the abolition of LNV as a threat to Wageningen UR. Wageningen is no longer so strongly linked to just one sector. We have links with at least five different ministries, because as well as agriculture, we work on environment, nature, nutrition, health and sustainable development. LNV is one of our biggest clients, but we can cope without it. The sector doesn't absolutely depend on LNV for its knowledge either. It could continue perfectly well with just the knowledge institutes.
'But nor do I see the abolition of LNV as an opportunity. Neither for shaking off the agricultural sector, nor for making savings. The influence of the agricultural lobby was never as great as many people think and has decreased a lot - certainly in the last ten years. in financial terms, abolishing LNV won't do much good either. Civil servants will still have to do carry out legislative tasks and implement policy, whether they're at LNV, EZ or another ministry. I predict savings of a couple of hundred million euros at the most, and a lot of infighting over who's going to do what. If you don't watch out, that will cost more money than it saves.'