- A long history of farmer cooperatives and multi-stakeholder collaboration for the “common self interest”;
- Debate over the role of measurement in farm practice improvement;
- Trade and aid: how Dutch policy has linked to companies’ value chain investments in imported crops like cocoa and coffee;
- Tradeoffs in livestock production between efficiency, on the one hand, and water quality or antibiotic use on the other hand;
- Deals between environmental interests and cooperatives of farmers to protect wildlife habitat and create synergy among previously competing goals;
- High-tech entrepreneurs who are creating greenhouse production of ever higher quality produce in systems that are net energy producing;
- Crop production for saline regions, and pest control with non-toxic materials;
- Organic and conventional farmers learning together to address soil quality, moisture retention, water quality, and carbon emissions.
The Netherlands is a world leader in agriculture, and after the United States, the largest exporter of agricultural products in the world. The agricultural sector in the Netherlands constitutes around 10 percent of the Dutch economy and employs more than 660,000 people, 50,000 of which are farmers. More than half of the total 4.15 million hectares of land in the Netherlands is used as farmland.
The Dutch are also leaders in industry. Four of the world’s top 25 food and beverage companies are Dutch, while 12 others also have a major production site or R&D facility in the Netherlands.
For more insight into food and agriculture in the Netherlands, visit HollandTrade.
TWO-DAY LEARNING JOURNEYS
Learning Journey #1:
Stories of Adaptation and Innovation for Sustainability: Potatoes, Barley, and Pork
This Learning Journey looked at three different products and adaptation strategies for changing markets.
Until recently Dutch farmers grew only one variety of potatoes. Considering that Holland is responsible for 22% of the world’s potato exports, this approach has been problematic if faced with blight or other diseases that affect the crop. Through the work of innovative farmers and the Louis Bolk Institute, an initiative was started to develop a new kind of blight-resistant potato. Growers then needed to build a market that would promote consumption of these “new” potatoes. Because of longitudinal research studies undertaken by the Institute, and the evidence base created, many previously conventional growers are now taking note of organic methods and shifting some of their land toward organic production. This, in turn, will build the demand for new seeds, making it worthwhile to undertake the development. We’ll visit a range of stakeholders addressing seed breeding in both theory and practice.
When Heineken was first drafting their sustainability plan, they recognized that their responsibility went beyond their breweries. It included their raw materials as well. Barley was one of their largest inputs, so Heineken started looking at how the barley they were using was being produced. What did sustainability look like throughout their barley supply chain? They partnered with ten farmers and as their work progressed, they recognized that they needed to look at all crops grown in rotation with the barley. Over several years the 10 barley farmers became the Skylark network, which now includes hundreds of farmers and dozens of buyers of their different products. These farmers grouped into local learning clusters, and they began to notice how rotations and other practices could improve soil quality and increase production. The Skylark Foundation helps farmers create and manage their own sustainability plans based on the specifics of their own farm and needs. This wealth of practical knowledge and on-the-ground learning is shared through the network. We’ll explore a Heineken barley chain from farm to brewery created by Heineken, Skylark, Holland Malt and Agrifirm. Read more.
Another visit on this Learning Journey will be to the farm of Annechien ten Have-Mellema. Ms. Have-Mellema has an integrated farm where she grows arable crops, raises pigs, and produces biogas. She was the chairman of the pig branch of the Dutch Farmers Union LTO Nederland for eight years as well as the vice president of the Product Board of Livestock and Meat (PVE). Ms. Have-Mellema is well known for her successful campaign to end pig castration (By this year, all pork sold in the Netherlands in retail and food service will come from non-castrated pigs.) and for the breeding she has done to produce pigs that feed on lupine, a sustainable food source. Lupine feed lends a unique flavor to pork that her customers have come to enjoy. She believes that using technology to scale up production while maintaining the highest standards for animal welfare and the environment will be the future.
Learning Journey #2:
The Role of Innovative Leaders: Individuals and Organizations in Sugar Beets, Coffee, Tea, and Chocolate
Some innovators begin to construct something before the market even realizes a need for it. This learning journey visited some of the Netherland’s innovative leaders who are ahead of the curve.
With upcoming reforms to the EU Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) leading to the abolition of sugar quotas and lower beet prices, innovative farmers are looking for ways to produce more beets sustainably. In the short run, conventional production methods will work, but in the long-term, companies and their managers who are at the leading edge of sustainable sourcing are realizing that it is no longer just a question of a sustainable product, but rather it is about a sustainable farming system. To meet a sustainable sourcing commitment for one type of crop may not be possible without ensuring that all the crops in a rotation are farmed sustainably. This requires a new level of collaboration between companies and the farmers they source from. The Skylark initiative has grown over several years from a Heineken/barley project to multiple crops, hundreds of farmers, and dozens of their customers. This Learning Journey will explore several links along an innovative Skylark sugar beet supply chain from farmer to sugar factory to Coca Cola plant.
Coffee & Tea:
Some quintessential Dutch businesses are leading change-makers as well. The producer and retailer, Simon Lévelt has a long history in coffee, tea and chocolate, but just because the company is rooted in tradition doesn’t mean that it doesn’t innovate. In 1817 Simon Lévelt opened a little shop in Amsterdam selling the best teas and coffees from around the world. Two centuries and six generations later, that shop has grown into a renowned coffee roasting house and tea merchant, still run by members of the same family. From the careful design of their retail stores to their leadership in the development of the Max Havelaar label, the world’s first Fairtrade Certification Mark, Simon Lévelt has been selling organic tea and coffee for over 25 years, long before it was fashionable to do so. Mikkel Lévelt, CEO of Simon Lévelt, will meet with learning journey participants to discuss the company’s leadership in sustainability and how companies will need to adapt to stay relevant and sustainable.
Teun van de Keuken, the founder of Tony Chocolonley, was a Dutch TV journalist who kicked off a crusade against child slavery in the chocolate industry on the consumer report TV show Keuringsdienst van Waarde. Teun created a 100% slave-free, bean to bar chocolate brand in 2005. And because he thought he might be the only guy in the chocolate industry that cared about eradicating slavery from the industry, he named his chocolate “Chocolonely”.
Learning Journey #3:
Collaborating for Sustainability: Dairy, Water and Eggs
The Netherlands food sector is dominated by the dairy industry.
- Number of farms in NL with dairy cows: 19,028
- Number of dairy cows in NL: 1.47 million
- Number of hectares of grassland and fodder: 1.2 million
The Dutch dairy chain must incorporate sustainability while simultaneously expanding its position in an increasingly global market. Recently the Netherlands has let go of its milk quota system, so there are no limits on sizes of farms anymore. How do dairy farmers respond to a fundamentally changed market, one that promotes unparalleled growth? How do they deal with the unintended consequences, some of which affect the water supply? To mitigate the effects of these changes, some farmers are now collaborating in a cross-sectoral partnership involving agricultural organizations, water companies, and local governments to build a “Clean Water Approach” to produce clean water for human consumption. How do efforts like this really work? What conditions need to exist in order to partner successfully? We’ll see this partnership in action and talk withvarious representatives involved.
The Netherland’s largest dairy firm is FrieslandCampina, which accounts for €9.7 billion of the country’s total annual dairy turnover of €12 billion (US$15.3 billion). According to a Rabobank ranking of the world’s largest dairy companies in July 2012, FrieslandCampina was ranked fifth in the world. It is owned by a cooperative of more than 14,000 dairy farms in the Netherlands, Germany and Belgium. Known for its dairy product innovations, including a 2010 project to develop butter that doesn’t spatter when used for frying, the company is also innovating for sustainability. How has this impacted their farms? How has it changed how the company operates? What drives new product development? On this Learning Journey, we’ll have the chance to see how both product and infrastructure innovations reinforce each other in the FrieslandCampina ecosystem.
Closing the loop—so to speak—we visited Rondeel, a closed-loop system for sustainable egg production. There are now six Rondeel egg farms in the Netherlands. The start of Rondeel can be traced back to a crisis situation when, in 2003, many countries were confronted with Avian Influenza that brought to light the contamination risks of free-range eggs and intensive hen farming. This triggered ideas to design and implement new housing for hens and improved conditions of animal welfare, better environmental conditions and economic returns. The Rondeel is a unique chicken husbandry system that responds to the public demand for animal welfare, food safety and animal health and was developed through a public-private partnership using research conducted at Wageningen University.
On the return trip to Rotterdam, we visited EOSTA, importer, packer, and distributor of organic, fair trade produce. EOSTA produce carries a 3-digit producer code that allows consumers traceability to the producer. EOSTA markets this unique “trace & tell” as Nature & More. EOSTA is also a founding partner of Soil & More, a network of compost joint ventures with major organic and conventional growers around the world.
Learning Journey #4:
Agricultural Innovation to Overcome Environmental and Economic Hurdles: Flowers, Soil Salinization, Water Management and a Little Dairy
This Learning Journey started with a visit to FloraHolland where more than half of the world’s cut flowers are bought and sold at the auction, a hub of the global flower trade since the early 20th century. Change is taking its toll, however, due in part to the use of technology Anyone with a buyer’s license and an internet connection can bid now, and along with presales and direct shipping, not all flowers need to come to auction anymore. Then add in concerns about carbon dioxide emissions and the cost of jet fuel, which have steadily squeezed the global transportation network, even as more growers have moved from Europe to warmer, and less expensive, climates in Africaover the last decade.
Still the scale of the Auction will inform our visits to North Holland to meet some tulip growers who are decreasing their pesticide use to improve local water quality, working with local Water Boards to make that happen. Water Boards are regional governmental bodies charged with managing water barriers, waterways, water levels, water quality and sewage treatment in their respective regions. Some of these authorities were founded in the 13thcentury.
Then on to the island of Texel, which has recently become known as the heart of slow food in the Netherlands. The area is characterized by dairy production, cheese-making, vegetable production and fisheries. Locals here are attempting to boost the local economy through food tourism and production of high-quality local foods. Chefs play an important role in this effort and are critical ambassadors for this movement. We ate at a local slow food restaurant that displays the Waddengoud mark—a certification representing the organization’s commitment to local sourcing and sustainability.
As sea levels rise, on Texel and the surrounding Frisian Islands, salinization of the soil is becoming a more pressing problem. Salt Farm Texel is a research farm looking into salt tolerance in conventional crops and producing salt tolerant cultivars. Participants visited this farm and discussed where progress has been made to increase production on the 1 billion (and rising) hectares of salinized soil worldwide.
The group visited Cono Cheesemakers, a small-scale dairy cooperative of 500 dairy farmers. Cono produces Beemster cheese and delivers milk for Ben & Jerry’s ice cream in Europe. Cono farmers are members of Ben & Jerry’s Caring Dairy program, which the group learned about through its member farms. The Cono Cheesemakers cooperative also works with the Roundtable on Sustainable Soy and Solidaridad to source sustainable feed.
ONE-DAY LEARNING JOURNEY
Learning Journey #5:
Chocolate: Certification, Production, and Innovation
Learning Journey #5 focused exclusively on cocoa. The Netherlands is the largest importer of cocoa beans from the main cocoa producing countries, Ivory Coast and Ghana—the Ivory Coast and Ghana are by far the biggest suppliers, representing 35% and 29% of total bean imports.
Cargill and UTZ helped our group explore the past, present and future of tools to drive sector transformation in cocoa. We visited SITOS in the Port of Amsterdam, which is the world’s largest cocoa port and meet with Chocolatemakers, a young chocolate company receiving a lot of attention for their high-quality, hand-made, organic, bean-to-bar chocolate sourced in small batches. Co-founder Rodney Nikkels is also a climate-change consultant who has worked with Utz and Solidaridad. Chocolatemakers is also working with the Cool Farm Alliance and Gold Standard Foundation to use the Cool Farm Tool as the carbon calculator for the Gold Standard Agriculture Methodology. They are testing it in Peru on a cocoa/timber land conversion project, where data collection is organized with tablets and uploaded via the cloud for data processing in Holland.