No farmers, no food? ‘It is far from how the food system in the Netherlands works’

No farmers, no food: it is a frequently used slogan during farmer protests. But it would have to go crazy if we really want to run out of food if a number of farms disappear. That’s what researchers say. “A little over the top.”

“Our building is almost energy neutral,” says farmer André Mulder proudly. In his company, he produces colostrum products on a large scale, from colostrum yogurt to cheese.

‘Quality instead of quantity’

He runs his business in a ‘comprehensive’ way. This means that as a farmer he intervenes minimally in nature, and that his animals graze on a relatively larger piece of land.

“We have found a business that fits into the philosophy of taking good care of the ground,” says Mulder. In 1995, he decided to switch to organic. “Then it became clear to me that it was no longer responsible to think in upscaling. As a farmer, I wanted to go for quality rather than quantity, with respect for animals, nature and the environment.”

Hard to make money

However, not all farmers can cultivate extensively. The Netherlands is far too small for that, says associate professor of food and agriculture Jeroen Candel from Wageningen University.

In addition, it is difficult for farmers to make enough money on extensification, says Food Hub founder Joris Lohman. “As a farmer, you need more land to make the same product. And land is very expensive, so the only option is to increase its price significantly.”

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less is difficult

With his company, Lohman helps people and businesses change the food system. He also guides farmers and understands that it can be difficult to switch to more sustainable agriculture and reduce livestock farming.

“It’s hard to make more money with less. If the baker sells fewer sandwiches, he has a problem, just like if half a farmer’s cattle were to go away.”

‘No farmers, no food’

At the same time, Lohman and Candel both acknowledge that the solution to the nitrogen problem lies in reducing the number of livestock. “For me, farmers do not have to leave, but they have to either move or get rid of their animals. There is really no other way,” Lohman says.

Farmers claim that a reduction in livestock in the Netherlands leads to a direct reduction in the food available. ‘No farmers, no food’ is one of the often used slogans during the farmers’ protests.

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‘No reason for panic’

According to Candel and Lohman, this is not entirely correct: “To put it bluntly, it is somewhat exaggerated. There is no direct link between the amount of food we have and the food that farmers produce,” says Lohman from Food Hub .

According to Professor Candel, we have a problem if there are no farmers at all in the short term, but because it is not happening fast, according to him, there is no reason to panic.

‘Powerful argument’

“It’s a strong argument from farmers, and to many people it sounds very logical, but it’s far from how the food system in the Netherlands works,” says Candel. 70 percent of Dutch agricultural products go abroad.

And there’s more to it: “There’s a lot of overproduction in agriculture, a lot of inefficiency, and we produce so unsustainably that we lose a lot in biodiversity to produce food.” According to Candel, it is right now that we must ensure that the environment, climate and food production are brought into harmony.

Food more expensive

Lohman also sees the inefficiency of the food system: “I think farmers have a point when they say we need to produce more of our own food. The problem is that a long time ago, efforts were made to intensify livestock farming.” “

It is no longer durable, he says. “The tendency with ‘no farmers, no food’ is actually that we can eat, but because of this system, that food will probably become more expensive.”

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In any case, the extensification of livestock farming as a solution to the nitrogen problem will not work for the average farmer, Lohman believes. “There are a lot of farmers who have done great things in sustainability, but earning well that way is really a niche.”

The entrepreneur believes that consumers should pay the price for better products. But according to him, it is difficult, because we already pay more with the higher prices for the same quality.

‘Took the election yourself’

According to Candel, there are only opportunities in certain parts of the Netherlands to hold a comprehensive agricultural business. André Mulder is one of the few who can run his business successfully with this.

He sees this for himself: “Many farmers were led by big entrepreneurs 30 years ago and began to intensify. They are now moving to the big companies, but they made that choice themselves then. I am glad that I have already made the choice about organizing my business in a different way. Now it was too late. “

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