Three things I learnt from farmers in the Netherlands
1. Co-operation is key
Apart from the flower market (!) the co-operation between farmers was the most impressive thing I saw on my three-day study trip to the Netherlands. We’d gone to learn more about farming methods and profitability in a highly-regulated environment which has a similar climate to the UK.
2. Politics plays a part
The political angle was interesting. In the Netherlands, the arable sector is positioning itself as part of the solution to the industry’s livestock issues, particularly around livestock carbon dioxide emissions.
3. Don’t forget the market
The farmers we visited had realised that for their scale and land values, they needed to concentrate on high value crops like potatoes, onions, sugar beet, sprouts and flowers. This meant that cereals were just a break crop for Dutch farmers!
As such, when necessary, secondary importance was given to cereal crop management like spray timings and input levels. Despite this, Dutch cereal yields looked very respectable, on a par with the UK. The key to success did seem to be the widely-available manure, where livestock farmers pay their arable neighbours to be able to spread muck.
We found that it was neither easier nor more difficult to farm profitable and sustainable arable rotations in the Netherlands than the UK. The strong environmental restrictions, for example phosphate level restrictions and spraying speed rules do make life more complicated, but this is compensated by manures from the livestock sector and the inclusion of high value crops in the rotation.