Science - June 29, 2006

Dutch agriculture in a nutshell

The liberalisation of food markets has made food production and consumption in the Netherlands an increasingly international affair, said Dr Jan Blom, director of LEI at the presentation of the Agricultural Economic Report 2006 (LEB). Dutch agricultural exports grew in 2005 by five per cent to over five billion euros.

According to the LEB, the annual overview of Dutch agriculture, the sector represents nine per cent of the Dutch economy. Of this, the primary agricultural sector represents only two per cent, and that proportion is declining. The role of the food and drinks industry is expanding, but half of this is engaged in processing raw materials from outside the Netherlands. Dutch agriculture’s strong point, emphasised Blom, is the large amount of knowledge and expertise, as well as the Dutch business instinct.

The number of farms decreased last year by 2.5 per cent. Small farms in particular are going out of business, as there is a lack of people willing to take over farms from older farmers. The number of very large farms is growing, however. Many farms are no longer concentrating on production of crops and livestock, but are diversifying their activities to include nature management, recreation and care, LEI writes in its report. In 2005 there were 500 care farms and 3000 recreational farms; 140 thousand farms were engaged in nature conservation and management. Nevertheless, this diversification is only responsible for 1.5 percent of the average farm turnover, according to LEI. Although the negative environmental effects of agriculture and horticulture are declining in the long term, this process has stagnated in recent years, the LEI report observes. The environmental costs of the agricultural sector are three times as high as the national average.

The family income of Dutch farmers and market gardeners was considerably higher last year – an average of thirty per cent higher – than in 2004, which was a bad year. There are large income differences between the sectors. Poultry farmers with laying hens ran at a loss for the second year in a row. Pig farmers with pigs raised entirely on-farm had an average income rise of 136,000 euros. Higher gas prices resulted in lower incomes in the glasshouse sector, and mushroom growers had lower incomes as a result of competition from Poland. The low incomes of arable farmers recovered considerably, but remained low at an average of twenty thousand euros. Dairy farmers earned more, as EU milk prices decreased less than expected, and they were compensated for amply by other subsidies. / JT

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