Thursday, March 13, 2014

Three Agricultural Lessons from The Netherlands

The Netherlands is a country roughly the size of New Jersey yet is the second largest agricultural exporter in the world behind only the USA. That statistic is made even more remarkable when one considers that The Netherlands has over 17 million people and much of the country is below sea level. Our Indiana Agricultural Leadership class recently toured parts of The Netherlands to examine how the country maintains such productivity.  Here are my top three observations:

1.  The Netherlands' agricultural production model is focused on value-added exports.  Nearly every sector of agricultural production is driven by exports. Dutch agricultural products rarely leave the country in raw material form, but are transformed into value-added goods like cheese. It would be rare to find Dutch corn elsewhere in the European Union, but it would be common to find Dutch butter made from cows that eat Dutch corn.  The US can take a lesson from this model, as much of what we export are bulk commodities that are transformed into consumable products in other countries.

 2.  The Netherlands has developed a world class infrastructure for moving goods.  The Netherlands has modern infrastructure of roads, highways, canals, rivers, and trains.  The country is very well connected to the rest of the European Union and to the rest of the world through airports and the port of Rotterdam, one of the largest in the world.  The ease by which goods can be transported from inland to the rest of world is best seen at the Dutch flower market in Aalsmeer.  Flora-Holland is the largest flower market in the world. Flowers come in from across the country, are graded, carted through the auction, sold, then immediately dispatched by truck to the airport for shipping all over the world.

3.  The Netherlands has embraced intensive greenhouse farming.  We toured a number of greenhouses that are used for growing tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers. Some are "organic" and some follow a lesser standard that allows herbicide and pesticides only when needed.  The greenhouses were enormous in size and scope and utilize the newest technology.  For example, one greenhouse was heated with natural gas but the waste carbon dioxide was also pumped into the greenhouse to boost production.

These factors make The Netherlands an agricultural exporting juggernaut, even though it is small in size and its climate is not always perfect for the crops that are grown (like Iowa is for corn or parts of California are for vegetables).  It is hard not to be impressed by the industriousness of Dutch agriculture.

This article is part 2 of a 6 part series on my travels abroad as part of the Indiana Agricultural Leadership class 15 trip.

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