Trends that impact agriculture in the Netherlands

ThinkstockWhen it comes to agriculture, many research and foresight-exercises can be found on both national and international level. A summary of some of the most important trends that impact the debate on agriculture in the Netherlands:


Demographic trends:

  • The world population will increase  up to approximately 9 billion people in 2050. This, of course, will have major implications the world food demand and -supply.
  • The Netherlands will face population decline, aging of the population and a growing immigrant population.
  • Especially rural areas will be affected by aging and a high level of migration of highly educated and young people to urban areas. A decrease in the number of households could lead to more space for nature and agriculture.
  • The number of people working in the agricultural sector is declining. There is even talk of a succession problem in the Netherlands: in the next fifteen years, between 17,000 and 19,000 farmers are expected to try to sell their company. Many young people see little opportunities in running a farm. The little excess earnings are the reason for this, especially in small businesses.(Source: NOS, 2010)

Economic trends

  •    The growing world population and increasing per capita consumption are likely to lead to a growing global scarcity of food, energy, raw materials and water. Prices of food, water and energy will increase.
  •          The scarcity of food might cause the Netherlands to choose to either produce more food for the world-market, or primarily for the domestic market.
  •          The growing scarcity will cause a more urgent demand for renewable energy and distributed generation of energy. This provides opportunities for businesses. Whether the agricultural sector will play a role in the energy supply depends on the price ratio between fossil fuels and biofuels.
  •          From a commercial perspective, there is a tension between developments to ‘upscale’ on one side and ‘downscaling’ on the other hand: large companies are becoming more cost efficiently and produce in bulk for the world, especially China and India. Smaller companies focus on social services and multifunctional agriculture: Hospitality, tourism, health care, retail, landscape and water are main products for them. Their customers are consumers and local authorities. Products such as milk, meat and potatoes are by-products and are sold as fresh, organic local product.


Sociological trends

  • The Dutch (especially those living in urban areas) feel less involved with nature, especially if it is not visible.
  • Consumer- preferences are becoming diversified: on the one hand, there is demand for affordable products, produced in bulk. On the other hand, more and more people seem to value animal welfare and environmental awareness. The question is whether people are willing to pay more for products that are ‘sustainably’ produced. Or are they willing to change their diets to insects or less meat?

Technological trends

  •    Technological innovations create more supply,  and possibilities to upscale and decrease costs. Robotics could be a solution to the looming shortage of labor in the agricultural sector. In another post I will focus especially on technological developments relevant to the agricultural sector.

Ecological trends

  • Biodiversity in the Netherlands, as in the rest of the world, is deteriorating.
  • With increasing climate change water management is increasingly important in land use.
  • Some other ecological threats to the Dutch agriculture are: salinity, subsidence, water and soil quality.

Political trends:

Policy has a huge impact on the agricultural sector. Especially international policy is important, because the Dutch agricultural sector has a strong international focus. The national policy is often an elaboration of EU policies. For example:

  • Liberalization of trade and agriculture (including abolishing milk quotas sugar and adaptation policies)
  • EU enlargement
  • Stringent requirements in terms of animal welfare, safety, health
  • Legislation and encouragement in the field of alternative energy
  • Regulations regarding technological developments
  • Policy in the field of environment, nature, landscape and water

Spatial (planning) trends:

  • We are a densely populated country and there is a competing demand for space in the Netherlands. In 2003, more than 68.3% of the Dutch land area was farmland, according to the CBS. The economic significance of the agricultural sector remains high, but gradually increases in relative terms. Agriculture is thus becoming less decisive for the use of space in the Netherlands. Agriculture competes with demands for space for housing, recreation and nature.
  • If the trend towards alternative energy continues, that might also demand more space than conventional energy supply from fossil sources.

This post was also published in Dutch on my website 



About Silke de Wilde

I am a foresight-expert and practitioner. As a freelancer, I help organisations think about the future and how to get there, for example by trendanalysis and scenarioplanning. As a facilitator I give workshops to inspire and help people think out of the box. I'm one of the co-founders of the Dutch Future Society. I also organise training in foresight at the School for Foresight. And in the time that's left I like getting into science fiction and working on my phd-research: Cities constructing futures. Yes, you might say I'm a future-fanatic, and I'm grateful that I'm able to make a living out of doing what I love. Thank you for visiting Futurista and please don't be a stranger!
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