Because the government has not written a perspective letter for agriculture, we have invited people to do so. Today NAV director Aleid Dik’s perspective. “There are many opportunities, but they don’t just give money right away.”
In fact, it is remarkable to say the least that the agricultural sector that provides us with food, one of our basic necessities, needs to look for perspective. First of all, that perspective lies in a much broader social recognition that the Netherlands is far from self-sufficient in food and that farmers are crucial for our food security. We are a net importer of food. It is true that we will not go hungry if our agricultural sector shrinks, but this is mainly because we are buying even more food away from poorer countries than is already the case. In many places in the world, agricultural land is becoming unusable or the climate is too unfavorable for agriculture. It is precisely our location in this continent’s fertile river delta with sufficient water that should naturally give the farmers here a view!
For a longer perspective, there is therefore a clear task in the ‘further education’ of citizens, starting with education. Furthermore, politicians and politicians should make decisions and draft rules with more knowledge than is often the case today. Policy choices should be driven by the recognition that maintaining sufficient land is essential for the land-based sectors. And that both animal and vegetable sectors are important for a balanced agriculture. The EU’s political intention called ‘No net land take’, which protects agricultural land and nature from a change in function, looks set to gain new impetus in 2023, which is good news for all farmers in the EU.
Changes bring opportunities…
Now if I zoom in specifically on arable farming, we see that all the policy and political intentions also have a serious impact on arable farming and open field vegetable cultivation. But to start the new year with good cheer, here’s a look at the outlook for arable farming.
First of all, some big changes are becoming visible. Starting with increasing attention for the protein transition. Agriculture can play a big role in this. The bio-based economy is also receiving more attention. Within construction in particular, but also in all sorts of other industries, solutions other than those from the fossil (plastic) industry are sought. It can also be about surprising things like replacing the aluminum cups for coffee machines with plant-based ones. This creates new opportunities for field farmers. At NAV’s annual conference on ‘Future Vision 2020’, many members indicated that they would be willing to expand as long as profitable alternative crops are available. With an increasing demand for home-grown vegetable protein for human consumption and for construction, insulation materials and plaster substitutes, this can happen in a reasonably short time.
Farming also offers prospects in relation to the climate. Finally, we can CO2 storage in a natural way that also benefits our crops. Carbon Farming may become increasingly important.
Another line towards more perspective is the valorization of crop residues. Cooperatives such as Avebe and Cosun have been successful in this, which should lead to higher incomes for their growers.
Perspective is also offered by technical innovations. New breeding techniques such as CRISPR-Cas look set to be allowed in the EU soon. ‘Green’ plant protection products are getting an extra boost in approval, and the first good results of approved products in open cultivation are starting to come. The Netherlands is obliged to approve substitutes for artificial fertilizers. Not everything is immediately applicable in the new year, but the beginning is there.
… but no guarantees yet
The above points are aspirational but do not guarantee a reasonable income. In other words: There are many options, but they do not immediately bring money. A number of things are crucial for a real perspective: joining forces among arable farmers and supporting government policy. In terms of joining forces: NAV has now created two producer organisations, the POC for table potatoes and the PO Eiwitboeren van Nederland for protein crops. ACM allows such POs to influence the market by asking members to limit production or negotiate prices. This promotes both better prices and greater equality between growers and buyers. Now that all field crops generate money, POC calls for more grain to be sown and fewer consumer potatoes to be planted. The farmer’s stronger position in the chain thus improves returns. It is important to maintain this position during difficult times.
As far as flanking policy is concerned, several things are needed. There must be an end to duty-free imports of cheap products grown in ways and with plant protection products that are not allowed here. As long as it is not sorted out, the government must support the cultivation financially, just like in our neighboring countries. And a NAV hobby horse: the government as market champion for stackable products such as grain, sugar and starch. Only agreements with the supermarkets to, for example, ‘mix’ sustainably produced products do not help arable farming enough, after all, it is only about the products that are on the shelves as such and not processed products.
The good news is that it is increasingly recognized, also by Minister Adema, and also by the European Commission, that the current trade policy hinders sustainability in the Netherlands and the EU. Minister Schouten believed that just finding out whether the margins in the chain are fairly distributed would lead to a fair distribution. And that if you ask citizens to buy sustainable products, the same citizens as consumers will no longer reach for the cheapest products. The era of this naive optimism seems to be behind us. And it offers the prospect of a policy that not only recognizes that farmers’ incomes are important, but can also muster the political courage to achieve a good farmer’s income.
On behalf of NAV, I wish you a wonderful and promising 2023 in all respects!
Aleid Dik, Director of NAV