Agriculture for 9 Billion, Dutch-style

Remarkable slideshow in The New York Times today.

Despite its small size, the Netherlands punches above its weight in farm exports, second only to the United States. When Henk Wildschut set out to photograph the food industry for “Document Nederland,” an exhibition by the Rijksmuseum and the Dutch newspaper NRC Handelsblad, he says he saw it as unhealthy and unethical. But his project, which focused on innovative production efforts and became the basis for his book, “Food,” revealed a gap between the “consumer-driven romanticized ideal and the reality of food production.’’ Increasingly, he says, ‘‘our food is created in a clean world of rules and protocols.”

I can appreciate his feeling of disconnect from the agriculture that he found. But consider the contrast with the filth and cruelty of an industrial egg laying operation or the pollution from our CAFO’s.

The farm’s of a planet with 4 billion people are not going to feed a planet with 9 billion. They need to be the smartest farms they can be. The Dutch are giving us a glance at that.

The productivity is astonishing. Consider. The Netherlands is 41,543 sq km. The US is 9,826,675 sq km. The US is 236 times the size of the Netherlands. Yet at $102 Billion, the Netherlands agricultural exports are 70% of the United States $145 billion in exports.

The Netherlands agriculture economy is 5x’s as productive as the European average. Factor those productivity numbers on top of the fact that the Netherlands minimum wage at $11.77 an hour is high compared to most of Europe. In fact, higher productivity in that sector would imply higher wages relative to less productive sectors in the Dutch economy. Meanwhile in the US farm workers bottom out at $7.25 an hour.

It goes to show that high tech, high productivity agriculture can be sustainable and humane without being exploitative. Check it out if you want to see what agriculture on a planet with 9 Billion middle class inhabitants is going to look like.

hectare photo hectare_zps673fee91.jpg
De Wieringermeer grows red, yellow and green sweet peppers on a 40-hectare site in Wieringermeer. An individual hectare is marked off with colored ribbon to provide staff with a visual clue of the growth process and allow for work to be planned accordingly.

pig photo pig_zpsbcd204e5.jpg
At the Swine Innovation Center at Wageningen University, a small porker used a toilet system called Pigsy. Piglets are trained early to defecate in a special corner of the facility, making it possible to collect feces at a single point, which lowers ammonia emissions.

More of Henk Wildschut’s food photography can be food here.


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About Marc Brazeau

Free lance cultural attaché. Writing at REALFOOD.ORG.

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