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 farmers earn a well-invested livelihood with organic products. Why does it work there?
“Look, this is the first thing you see when you enter: organic eggs, butter, juice, vegetables. Right at eye level,” says co-founder Paul Holmbeck from the organic advocacy organization Ökologisk Danmark about a supermarket in the Danish city. Aarhus.
40 percent of the milk is organic
Holmbeck is just as excited 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. It is almost 100 percent for bananas and baby food. For comparison: In the Netherlands, the total supply of organic products is still a paltry 3 percent
‘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. This has helped a lot,” he notes.
The government is actively helping the farmers
Furthermore, consumers are not only encouraged to buy more organic food, farmers in Denmark are actively helped with the transition to organic farming.
For example, they can have a so-called ‘conversion check’ done to determine how they should adapt their farm and whether the transition to organic farming is sustainable.
“Do we want to keep participating in 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 has experienced the Danish shift to organic farming up close.
His cows were still fed concentrate 10 years ago and kept mainly in the barn. As the bills mounted and more and more work came along, he was barely making 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 that you work 80 hours a week and have nothing left.” Mark enlisted the help of a biological consultant and decided to change course. “My cows used to produce 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.”
More grants for ecology
The transition was not without struggle. “We are now 6 years later and the soil really needed to recover from several years of using fertiliser,” 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 succeed’
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 urges. “There is no reason why the Netherlands could not succeed in what has also been successful in Denmark.”
See the full report here.