How the Netherlands can learn from Denmark when it comes to organic food: ‘No reason why you shouldn’t succeed’

This month, the government presents an action plan for sustainable agriculture that will give farmers in the Netherlands perspective. In Denmark, they are much further ahead, and the farmers serve a well-stocked sandwich with organic products. Why does it work there?

“Look, that’s the first thing you see when you come in: Organic eggs, butter, juice, vegetables. Right at eye level,” says founder Paul Holmbeck from the organic advocacy organization Ökologisk Danmark about a supermarket in Aarhus.

40 percent of the milk is organic

Holmbeck is still as enthusiastic as when he started Ökologisk Danmark. In 30 years, he and his organization have made organic products big in the Scandinavian country.

For example, 40 percent of the milk sold in Denmark is now organic. With bananas and baby food, it is even almost 100 per cent. For comparison: In the Netherlands, the total supply of organic products is a paltry 3 percent

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‘Danes have embraced it’

“Denmark has embraced organic,” says Holmbeck. “We have helped supermarkets to make organic goods visible on the shelves and to communicate to customers why it is good and healthy,” he explains. “It’s also not much more expensive in many cases.”

According to him, the Danish government has also invested in a clear brand for the promotion. “Organic food has one clear logo that all of Denmark knows and that people love. It helped a lot,” he states.

The government is actively helping the farmers

Furthermore, the consumer is not only encouraged to buy more organic food, farmers in Denmark are actively helped with the transition to organic farming.

They can, for example, have a so-called ‘conversion check’ done to determine how they should adapt their business and whether the transition to organic farming is sustainable.

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“Do we want to keep doing this?”

Mark Hardebol started in 2012 as a ‘normal’ farmer with around 150 dairy cows near the village of Ribe in western Denmark. The Dutchman himself has experienced the Danish shift to organic farming.

His cows were still fed concentrate 10 years ago and kept mainly in the barn. As bills mounted and more work added, he barely managed to make ends meet. “Do we want to keep participating in this?” wondered the farmer at one point.

Lower yield, higher income

No, was his conclusion: “It cannot be right that you work 80 hours a week and have nothing to spare.” Mark enlisted the help of a biological consultant and decided to change course. “My cows used to deliver 10,000 liters of milk a year, now it’s 4,000 litres,” he says.

“The yield is therefore much lower, but we are doing much better financially,” emphasizes the Dutch farmer in Denmark. “We have less costs for concentrate, fertilizer and vet bills. And we get a better price for our milk.”

Dutchman Mark Hardebol has been farming in Denmark since 2012

More grants for ecology

The transition was not without struggle. “We are now 6 years later and the soil really needed to recover from the years of fertilizer use,” he explains. According to him, organic farming is more supported and supported in Denmark. “It makes it easier.”

The cows are now outside almost all year round and eat only grass, much to the milk producer’s satisfaction. “The fact that it is good for biodiversity and the climate is of course also a big advantage.”

‘The Netherlands should also be able to do this’

According to Holmbeck from Organic Denmark, his country proves that there is also plenty of future for Dutch agriculture. He has previously advised our cabinet on this. According to him, it is high time that the government takes action: “There is a very big opportunity that is not yet being seized.”

“Help farmers switch, help supermarkets with marketing and make sure consumers understand why it’s important: good for your health, good for the climate, good for nature,” he calls. “There is no reason why it should not work in the Netherlands, which has also succeeded in Denmark.”

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