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The Dutch like to give the world a taste of their agricultural excellence. Our biggest export comes in green bottles: Heineken. Only the US Army ships more goods across the Atlantic than this famous brewer from Holland. We are the second largest exporter of eggs, as well, and more than three-quarters of meat produced in the Netherlands is destined for other markets.
Dairy is a cornerstone of the Dutch diet. A typical Dutch lunch consists of a sandwich with cheese and a fresh glass of milk. The daily average dairy consumption in the Netherlands is above that of other countries in the European Union. Our love of dairy stems from a long tradition, as the Dutch climate allowed pastures and cows to flourish and become a natural part of our lives. Today, dairy farming remains one of the most important elements of Dutch agriculture.
1.5 million cows
Dairy farmers use about 60 percent of the agricultural land in the Netherlands. Milk alone accounts for 17 percent of the production value of Dutch agriculture. The Dutch dairy sector has 20,000 farms with nearly 1.5 million cows.
Annual milk production amounts to 11.9 billion kg (or roughly 1.3 million tons), the bulk of which becomes cheese, butter, powdered milk, fresh milk products, and other specialties items. Dutch dairy products are enjoyed around the world. With an export value of nearly $6.4 billion, the Netherlands is among the world’s major dairy exporters.
The Dutch dairy industry has achieved its strong competitive international position based on high standards for technology and quality. It also takes advantage of the long tradition of the Netherlands as a trading nation.
The Netherlands is also a major importer of dairy produce, re-exporting much of its imports to the rest of Europe and beyond. As such, the Netherlands functions as a springboard into other markets in Western Europe and the world. In 2010, Dutch dairy imports valued almost $2.9 billion.
Important organizations in the Dairy sector
The Dutch dairy sector is characterized by a high degree of organization. Each segment of the production chain has its own organization to represent its interests. Farmers are represented by the Dutch Organization for Agriculture and Horticulture, industry by the Dutch Dairy Organization, traders by the Joint Dairy Federation, and retail by the Dutch Food Retail Association. The unions FNV Union, National Federation of Christian Trade Unions and CNV Services Federation represent employees. These organizations all participate in the Board of Governors of the Dutch Dairy Board, which includes representatives of employers and employees from every segment of the Dutch dairy sector.
The board has regulatory powers. Levies are imposed to finance promotion, research, animal healthcare, and quality projects. In addition to serving as a platform for discussion on developments in dairy policy, the board also acts as an information and knowledge center for the dairy sector in the Netherlands. Finally, the Dutch Dairy Board is in charge of implementing the quota system and other dairy-related EU regulations (e.g. trade, school milk). Other organizations involved in the Dutch dairy complex:
- NIZO Food Research plays an important role in dairy research and technology development.
- The Research Station for Animal Husbandry focuses on research on dairy farming issues.
- QLIP is an independent service provider that analyzes and certifies programs in the dairy chain.
- The Netherlands Controlling Authority for milk and milk products.
- GD Animal Health Service helps prevent and deal with veterinary diseases.
- Activities to promote Dutch dairy produce on the domestic market and abroad form an integrated part of the NZO scope of activities, as does the dissemination of information on the relation between dairy and health.
Livestock, breeding and meat
Dutch cows are so famous for their milk production, they are even exported themselves. Traditionally, the breeds in the Netherlands were the Friesian Hollands (FH), the Maas, Rijn and IJssel (MRIJ) and the Groningen. The FH population is almost entirely patched black/black and white with a small amount of patched red. MRIJ cattle are patched red. Friesland Holland cows and bulls have been sold in North America since the middle of the 19th century, and formed the basis of the Holstein Friesian (HF) breed.
Central breeding organization
Nowadays, Holstein Friesian is the dominant breed, accounting for more than 90 percent of Dutch cattle. The central breeding organization in the Netherlands is CR-Delta, which is a cooperative of 30,000 members. The Netherlands is one of the biggest exporters of breeding heifers and semen in the world. More information on Dutch breeding is available at www.cr-delta.nl.
While the Dutch cattle industry focuses on producing milk, it also supplies high-quality meat. Some three-quarters of Dutch-produced meat is destined for countries outside the Netherlands. A portion of the meat production originates from specialty cattle farms, but most of it comes from dairy cows.
The high reputation of Dutch beef stems not only from its nutritional and culinary qualities, but also the reliable and controlled production process. A tried and tested method of tracking and independent quality inspections allows meat to be traced from the point of sale back to its source. After calves have been born, they are marked with an ear tag to indicate where they were born and raised.
When the animals are taken to slaughter, the farmer supplies voedselketeninformatie, which is Dutch for information about the cows’ food chain. This keeps track of the animals’ parents, which farm they were raised on, and the raw materials used to feed them.
Registration and codes enable the origin of the final product to be traced at all times. In April 2010, the Agricultural Census registered 2.4 million cattle that were at least 12 months old, the same number as the previous year. The number of dairy cattle decreased slightly to 1.48 million animals. According to provisional figures, the production of beef in 2010 was around 165 million kg (roughly 182 tons).
Farm animals in the Netherlands, 2010
Breed Number Pigs 12,255,000 Dairy cows 1,479,000 Chickens 101,248,000 Horses 141,000 Sheep 1,130,000 Goats 353,000
Gross production value of the primary sector (value x 1 million euros, excluding VAT)
2008 2009 (preliminary) 2010 (estimated) Livestock, meat and eggs including 5,507 5,416 5,233 Cattle 652 632 550 Calves 847 866 896 Pigs 2,560 2,412 2,328 Poultry 728 717 728 Other livestock 307 297 304 Eggs 413 492 427 Milk, total 4,166 3,227 4,086 Agriculture, total 2,341 2,331 2,843 Horticulture, total 9,067 8,515 9,541 Other Agriculture 2,954 2,976 3,072 Total of primary sector 24,035 22,465 24,775
Veal is produced in the Netherlands according to stringent regulations. Virtually all Dutch veal producers work with the IKB (Integrale Keten Beheersing, or Integrated Chain Control) quality system and are monitored by the SKV (Foundation for Quality Guarantee of the Veal Sector). Through these mechanisms, the veal-calf sector guarantees the animal welfare, food safety, animal health and the quality of the veal. Compliance with IKB also implies compliance with the European hygiene regulations for foodstuffs and animal feed. There are two separate systems for veal calves: one for animals producing white meat and one for those yielding rosé meat. IKB calf farmers contract with a single vet, and have a medical treatment plan. Important aspects of the IKB program are careful and rational use of antibiotics and their registration. Animal welfare has always been a key concern in the Dutch calf farming sector. The Netherlands was the first country in Europe to introduce calf group housing of its own accord.
Much of the veal sold in Dutch supermarkets is awarded a star by the Beter Leven (Better Life) quality mark of the Dutch Society for the Protection of Animals. Veal granted this quality mark complies with the extra high demands placed on animal welfare. Dutch production of veal in 2010 was 231,800 tons. The majority of Dutch production originates from animals younger than eight months old. The share accounted for by this category in the total production volume was 83 percent last year.
Pig farmers respond to consumer wishes
The Dutch pig sector enjoys a good reputation. A large volume of pork is exported, as is many Dutch piglets and fatteners. Pork is the most widely sold meat in our country and the rest of Europe. More than half of the total meat consumption in the Netherlands is pork. The Dutch pig-producing industry responds to consumers’ wishes and exploits every available market opportunity. With its IKB quality scheme for total surveillance of animal production, the Dutch pig sector has guaranteed the safety and quality of its pig meat for many years.
Key aspects of this quality control scheme are information exchange combined with a tracking system for pigs, and extra requirements relating to feed, hygiene, responsible use of veterinary medicine (antibiotics), animal welfare, and food safety. In addition, all pig farms are monitored for the use of prohibited substances and residues of veterinary medicine. Supplying food chain information at slaughter has also been introduced. (Source: Dutch Product Boards for Livestock, Meat and Eggs). In June 2012, the Dutch government invited a small delegation from the United States to visit the Netherlands to study new developments in the field of sustainable animal production and care. Click here for the articles that appeared in Pork magazine about the trip.
Poultry farmers lead the world with quality
Chicken is a popular meal, and Dutch farmers produce meat of the highest quality. This is because they lead the world in terms of quality policy. IKB measures have been implemented since 2010 to reduce the use of antibiotics. The Dutch poultry sector itself provides extra guarantees for the consistent quality and reliability of its products. The health and hygiene of products in every stage of the production chain is systematically inspected. The poultry sector has taken the initiative to implement its own controls over campylobacter on top of complying with obligatory controls over salmonella, forming part of the IKB quality plan.
Strict control on salmonella
This allows guarantees to be given about the consistent quality and reliability of chicken products. The Netherlands leads the world in terms of controlling salmonella, as its policy forms the foundation of the EU’s salmonella policy. The export of processed and unprocessed poultry meat was 961,000 tons in 2010. Source: Dutch Product Boards for Livestock, Meat and Eggs.
The Netherlands is a major producer of eggs and egg products, and the second largest exporter of eggs in the world. The majority of production, two-thirds, is shipped to other countries. Dutch supermarkets sell only eggs produced according to the IKB quality regulations, as shown by the IKB logo on the packaging.
Under the IKB quality plan, all eggs are stamped with a code identifying the farm where they were produced, so they can be traced to their origin. The code also indicates how the hens are housed and the country, farm and hen house where the egg was produced. The quality and food safety is constantly safeguarded in all the links in the chain through strict legislation, monitoring programs, and inspections.
The Dutch poultry sector, civil society organizations, and supermarkets consult together in the IKB Ei Foundation about the quality policy. The laying hen population was 33.7 million birds in 2010. The number of farms rose in 2010 to 1,126. Dutch exports of eggs and egg products (calculated as table eggs) totalled 9.8 billion units in 2010. Source: Dutch Product Boards for Livestock, Meat and Eggs.
Greenhouses: A shiny city of glass
Greenhouses cover an area of more than 25 square miles in the Netherlands, a virtual city of shining glass protecting 7 percent of the Dutch horticultural production. Dutch greenhouse growers are entrepreneurs. Together with suppliers of high-tech equipment, they develop new concepts and test their applications. Many innovations are realized in projects that are initiated by growers.
From harvest to US market in less then a day
Every new greenhouse is developed on the basis of specific wishes of growers. The greenhouse industry has built an astonishing logistical network capable of delivering a box of flowers or bell peppers to a New York street vendor on the same day they were harvested in the Netherlands. At the same time, companies supplying high-tech production systems have developed into a booming export sector on their own. Encouraged by the government, Dutch growers and greenhouse suppliers are investing heavily in environmentally sustainable production systems, including greenhouses that will produce energy rather than consume it.
Such innovations will not only ensure sustainable production at home, but also open new markets elsewhere. Moving platforms, robots, innovative lighting, energy savings, and water and waste recycling have added to the industry’s environmental sustainability. In fact, makers of all those high-tech ornamentals production systems now constitute a booming business of their own. Whether it’s building sustainable greenhouses or fitting them with the latest computer technology, Dutch suppliers have become major exporters of greenhouse equipment, using their experience gained at home to help partners around the world.
Quick response to market demands
Being in a small country, Dutch breeders, propagators and growers have always interacted closely with one another, enabling them to quickly respond to dynamic market demands. Often finding solutions to specific problems, companies design new techniques, products and concepts, and rapidly evaluate them in real-world business situations.
In response to a growing need for overflow basins, the industry has designed floating greenhouses. And to reduce their use of pesticides, growers are using bees to control insects and building large microwave systems to disinfect the soil. To counter rising labor costs, growers use automated planters, transportation and harvesting systems in their greenhouse. Greenhouses are known for using a lot of fossil fuel, and generating high costs for growers. That’s why growers and the Dutch government cooperate in the Greenhouse as Energy Source initiative, aimed at developing greenhouses that produce energy rather than consume it. In the program, growers set up experiments in which they make more efficient use of light and heat from the sun, for example.
Sustainable energy sources
Many other avenues are explored, including the use of sustainable energy sources, such as biofuels, geothermal heat pumps, combined heat-power systems (CHP) or cogeneration systems, as well as creating varieties that require less energy to grow. New greenhouse designs are being tested at Wageningen University and Research (UR) Center in the Netherlands. Wageningen UR Greenhouse Horticulture in Bleiswijk is an internationally renowned research institute for greenhouse horticulture. In partnership with the greenhouse horticulture industry, it carries out research to contribute to a sustainable and competitive greenhouse industry. The research projects at Wageningen UR Greenhouse Horticulture focus on five research themes: energy and climate, sustainable crop protection, water and emissions, advanced breeding and production systems, and quality of plants and products. Click here to learn more about greenhouses in Holland.
Close cooperation between the government, agricultural organizations, farmers and retailers has led to considerable growth in the production and consumption of organic food in the Netherlands. The Dutch government’s policy to promote organic farming translates into active promotion of research and consumption. Together with farmers, distributors, processing companies, retailers and non-government organizations, the government initiated a task force to promote consumption of organic products, aiming for at least 10 percent growth per year.
Organic food in every supermarket
Supermarkets as well as specialized health-food shops play an important role in this process. In the last decade, supermarkets introduced organic products in their standard assortment and have been the main outlet for organic food, beating the health-food shops by a narrow margin. Supermarkets are the most important retail channel for organic products in the Netherlands.
Dutch supermarkets continue to expand their assortment of organic food, exposing an ever larger portion of the public to the high quality of organic products. It is interesting to note that supermarket sales, which have grown steadily in the last 10 years, were never at the expense of specialized health-food stores.
Government canteens serve organic food
Health-food stores clearly serve a different consumer group. Impressive growth (from 4.5 percent of total organic sales in 2007 to 7.9 percent in 2008) was recorded by the catering industry. Key to this growth was the government decision to present organically produced food in government office canteens and restaurants around the country. Forty percent of all food sold in central government restaurants has to be of organic origin. Several ministries have already applied the new standards to their restaurants.
With this decision, the government seems to be following a trend that has been noticeable in the catering world for some time. Green is hot. The United States and the European Union are in talks to establish an Equivalence Agreement for organic products. Under such an agreement, the United States and the European Union would recognize each other’s organic programs, which would facilitate trade in organic products between the US and the EU.
Skal is the private, nonprofit organization that certifies and inspects organic food in the Netherlands. It is the official holder of the EKO quality mark, which is found on many Dutch organic products. The use of the EKO quality mark is restricted to organic companies certified by Skal. The quality mark is allowed only on products containing more than 95 percent organic ingredients. Skal inspectors visit farms and processing units, examine soil samples, crops and products, and perform administrative checks. Only if the production process meets all requirements, Skal issues a certificate. If not, the organization can impose sanctions or even decertify the product or the company.
Organic farming enjoys special attention in research policies and projects. The Dutch government allocates 10 percent of its agricultural research budget for Wageningen University and Research Centreto organic farming.
Farmers in the Netherlands are actively involved in setting the research agenda. Organic farmers will often participate in research projects. By combining the craftsmanship of the farmers with the theoretic knowledge of the researchers, results can achieved that lead to improved product quality, sustainability, and economic viability of organic agriculture in general.
More than 600 farmers, companies, research organizations and the government work together in Bioconnect, a network that promotes knowledge and policy development projects. Most agricultural research in the Netherlands is performed by Wageningen UR and the Louis Bolk Institute. Wageningen UR is internationally known as one of the best agricultural universities in the world. The Louis Bolk Institute (LBI) is a private research group that links social issues and groundbreaking research, bridging the gap between scientific objectivity and personal involvement. Both Wageningen UR and the LBI take part in global research networks and make their findings available to researchers and farmers around the world. Click here to learn more about organic farming in Holland.
A Closed greenhouse operation
Michigan State University’s Dr. Erik Runkle interviews Wilco Wisse, commercial manager of Van der Lans, Rilland, NL, tomato grower. He describes energy savings from closed greenhouse, describing efficiencies and investments in detail.
LED Lighting Lettuce
Michigan State University’s Dr. Erik Runkle interviews Jeroen van Velzel, Lemnis Lighting, Barneveld, NL, project director, shot at Boer & Den Hoedt, Ridderkerk, NL (lettuce grower). He shows LED in use in lettuce greenhouse.
Reducing pesticides in the Greenhouse
Michigan State University’s Dr. Erik Runkle interviews Rik van den Bosch of A+G van den Bosch, Bleiswijk, NL, grower of beefsteak tomatoes, on their 25 year success in using biological controls in place of pesticides.
Rainwater Capture System
Michigan State University’s Dr. Erik Runkle interviews Wilco Wisse, Van der Lans, Rilland, NL (tomato grower). Mr. Wisse explains how Van der Lans reclaims and recycles water.