Agriculture and horticulture

The Dutch agricultural sector produces mostly cereals (wheat in particular), feed crops (such as fodder maize) and potatoes. The horticultural sector focuses on vegetables and flower bulbs. Dutch greenhouses produce mostly vegetables and flowers like sweet peppers and roses.

Agriculture and the economy

After the United States, the Netherlands is the biggest exporter of agricultural produce in the world. The Dutch agricultural sector exports some € 65 billion of agricultural produce annually. This is 17.5% of total Dutch exports. One quarter goes to its largest trade partner, Germany. Accounting for 10% of the Dutch economy and employment, the agricultural and horticultural sectors play a crucial role.

Towards a more sustainable agriculture and horticulture

Energy savings will be a priority for the Dutch (greenhouse) horticulture sector, while the livestock sector will need to focus on animal welfare and the environment over the next few years.

The government works with entrepreneurs towards a more sustainable agriculture and horticulture. Government subsidies and knowledge help to stimulate multifunctional agriculture, a term used for farms that combine agriculture with providing care (so-called care farms) or nature management (by leaving fields to lie fallow for meadow birds to breed, for instance). In 2009 multifunctional agriculture accounted for sales of € 411 million.

Support for organic farmers

Organic farms in agriculture and horticulture care for the environment. They do not use chemical pesticides for instance. To make organic farms more competitive with regular agriculture, the government signed covenants with supermarkets, the Dutch Confederation of Agriculture and Horticulture (LTO) and other parties for the joint promotion of organic products and a wider selection in the shops. These efforts should lead to a 10% increase in the sale of organic products.

Innovation: low-energy greenhouses

The Dutch government aims to drastically reduce energy and gas consumption in the greenhouse horticulture sector. From 2020 all new greenhouses must by climate-neutral and produce no zero carbon monoxide (CO2). This can be achieved through innovative technologies such as:

  • Use of solar energy;
  • Light-saving measures (use of natural light and more efficient lamps);
  • Energy-efficient growth strategies;
  • Geothermal applications;
  • Use of biofuels (the use of biogas (green gas) and (residue) wood offer great potential);
  • Generation and use of (more) sustainable electricity.

Greenhouse as a source of energy

The government stimulates the development of new, sustainable technology through 'The greenhouse as a source of energy' programme. The programme is a collaboration between the government and the Horticulture Product Board and the Dutch Confederation of Agriculture and Horticulture.

Towards a biobased economy

Biomass will become increasingly important for the Dutch economy. The energy, chemical and other sectors will increase their use of green raw materials. The greening of the Dutch economy offers great opportunities for entrepreneurs.

The government wants to promote the use of biomass for the production of fuels, chemicals, resources, electricity and heat. By 2030 30% of all fossil raw materials (oil, coal, natural gas) must have been replaced by green materials (biomass). The aim is to create a green economy (biobased economy) driven by biomass.

Advantages biomass

Advantages of the use of biomass:

  • Biomass products are degradable and not harmful to the environment;
  • Biomass is produced sustainably, made from green resources that are otherwise discarded. It relies mostly on residual products from greenhouse horticulture, livestock farming, arable farming and the food industry;

For this reason, the government stimulates research into new technologies and its exploitation. One such scheme promotes the development of green gas and stimulates research into bio-plastics. Innovative entrepreneurs can sign up for the SBIR programme.

  • The bio-based economy offers opportunities for Dutch entrepreneurs. It allows the chemicals sector to grow and become more sustainable through the use of green raw products.

Crop protection agents

Farmers and growers use plant protection products, or pesticides, to protect their crops against weeds, diseases and pests. Their use can be harmful, if, for instance, they leak into food or ground water. The government supports safe and sustainable crop protection.

Before farmers or growers use crop protection products, they must try alternative measures such as growing particular types of crop, or non-chemical crop protection. Plant protection agents must be used only if these fail. Their use requires proof of competence.