Wetenschap - 28 juni 2001

English Summary

The Agricultural Economics Research Institute LEI published the annual figures on Dutch agriculture this week.

Increases in scale continue unabated, together with a decrease in the number of farms: there are now less than 100,000 farms in the Netherlands, and the average size is increasing. The same trend can be seen in the supermarket chains: there are fewer, but those that stay in the race are getting bigger and are responsible for an increasing segment of food sales. Dutch agricultural imports and exports rose from 36 billion guilders in 1999 to 43 billion guilders in 2000, ornamental plants and flowers heading the export list, closely followed by meat and dairy products. Eighty percent of Dutch exports stay within the EU. Worldwide agricultural production increased slightly last year, although production per capita decreased for the first time a number of years, particularly in Africa and Eastern Europe.

The Netherlands was declared officially free of foot and mouth disease at the beginning of this week.

The total amount of damages incurred by Wageningen UR as a result of the crisis will not be known until the autumn, but some estimates are already available. All researchers may now resume their work with animals, although there were very few who had nothing to do even at the height of the crisis. Two institutes have already made an estimate of the losses. Imag estimates to have lost one million guilders through delays to its work, out of a total annual budget of 29 million guilders. Most of the work is research for the ministry of agriculture, which will now take place at a later date. Alterra expects a similar loss, of which three hundred thousand has already been compensated, and much of the rest may well be earned back later in the year.

Wb asked a number of first year undergraduate students this week for their impression of their first year under the new education programmes at Wageningen University.

Most were satisfied with course content and the practically oriented 'problem-driven' education. Complaints were frequent however about the lack of clear timetabling. Sometimes students do not even know from one week to the next when and where lectures will be held. The Dutch students are generally positive about the increasing internationalisation of Wageningen University and the courses it offers, but regret the fact that it is not easy to arrange a study period abroad. The new BSc/MSc structure is not yet clear, but most see an MSc degree as an advantage in the international arena.

Forest researcher Dr Henk Koop of Alterra points out that forest fires can have a positive effect on wildlife.

A forest fire which destroys large amounts of vegetation is usually follwed by a new wave of succession in which many special types of plants appear for the first time. In the Netherlands fire fighters often destroy much vegetation with their fire engines, in their eagerness to reach a forest fire. Koop and Melchert Zu Schlochtern examined the effects of two forest fires in the Netherlands, and concluded that the nutrient-rich ash layer left behind encouraged the growth of unusual toadstools and mosses. Large numbers of beetles were also attracted by the dead wood, and these in turn attracted large numbers of woodpeckers.

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