Meeuwes Brouwer about the strong points of the Dutch agriculture:
“Cooperation is in the DNA of Holland farmers”
The Dutch achievements in agriculture are well-known to Russian society: dairy brands, potatoes and tomatoes of Holland selection, greenhouses equipped with LED lighting for year-round vegetable growing. Meeuwes Brouwer, Agricultural Counsellor of the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Russia told us about keys to success in Dutch agriculture and the cooperation in the agrarian field between Russia and the Netherlands.
- The Netherlands is rated second in the world and first in Europe in terms of food exports. Which factors have made export strategy so efficacious? What are the key features of the Dutch agriculture?
- A certain number of country’s particularities are usually determined by its geographical characteristics. First, our mild climate is favourable to agriculture. Secondly, the small size of the Netherlands (its square is approximately equal to the Moscow region’s one!) requires open economy as we need trade and investments for our development. In comparison with Russia our population is rather thin, and this fact has an impact on the scale of the agrarian sector: there are mainly family farms with 100–300 cows instead of huge industries of dairy production with 3-4 thousands cows, like in Russia.
Besides, I would like to emphasise the high level of the professionalization in the sector: most farmers in the Netherlands are well-educated, about 70-80 % of them are graduated from agricultural colleges or universities.
In my opinion, one of the main features of the Dutch, that has influenced our State economy for centuries, is cooperation: it is in the genes, in the DNA of our people. Each branch of the agriculture – dairy farming, poultry indystry, fruit and vegetables growing – gives us examples of this mutual assistance: all the stakeholders in the agricultural chain including traders, producers, processors work closely together, teach each other how to improve the yield, how to reduce the costs, etc. It is proved by strong cooperatives, such as FrieslandCampina, one of the largest dairy cooperative in the world. It is also active in Russia.
The same principle concerns logistic infrastructure providing prompt supplies, as a result Holland products in the retail sector are as fresh as possible.
Another form of cooperation is cross-sectoral partnership. The innovations in agribusiness are the outcome of the joint effort of government, research institutes and private sector. This makes the Dutch economy strong and competitive.
Cross-sectoral cooperation forms the golden triangle of the Netherlands’ agriculture. To my mind, the Russian Federation could learn something from such approach. I have been working in Russia for two years and I witness the development of Russian agrarian sector. I am quite impressed by some achievements. However, I find it peculiar that looking for new export markets Russia keeps its own borders closed and avoids participating in competition. Nevertheless, I believe that supporting the establishment of a solid cooperative system is even more advantageous and gainful than investments in the expansion of production capacity.
- And what is about the partnership on the world scene? Who are the main international partners of the Netherlands on the agrarian market and what are the essential vectors of cooperation with them? How would you characterize the Dutch-Russian relations in that regard?
- As I have already mentioned, the Netherlands represent the sample of open economy. In spite of the country’s small size, in 2017 the export of our agribusiness (comprising technologies) exceeded 100 billion euros. Our largest market is the European Union: Germany, Great Britain, Belgium, France. Outside the EU we are targeted at the USA and China. Russia is our third importer.
Unfortunately, because of sanctions due to political tensions in recent years our export on Russian food market has been significantly reduced. Let’s hope that in the foreseeable future the situation will change for the better, however now the Netherlands as well as other Western countries are not allowed to export fruit, vegetables, meat and dairy products to Russia. Nevertheless, even under the embargo last year our export to Russia increased by 10% and achieved over one billion euros. We have seen a shift from final product to technologies and gene materials that we are focusing on today.
- Does Russia, for its part, can propose to the Netherlands any production or technologies for import?
- Every cooperation ought to give mutual benefits to the participants. I can state that for the last couple of years the relations between Russia and the Netherlands in the agricultural sphere are win-win for both sides. Our ministers regularly meet to discuss what we can learn from each other, what experience should be shared.
Last year Russia accounted for 6,5% of the Dutch export to Russia, it was mostly raw materials, like cereals, corn, oil seeds and vegetable oils.
- Returning to the subject of innovations, which of new technologies invented and exported by the Netherlands you find the most promising? What are their fortes?
- Innovative technologies, even though at the start their implementation is not cheap, prove to be efficacious and lucrative.
The Dutch agribusiness is famous by dairy farming and vegetable growing (potatoes, tomatoes and cucumbers selection). Both these fields have been succeeded in introducing new technologies.
Since recently dairy farmers use milk robots that permit not only to double or triple the amount of milk production and minimize labour inputs, but also to improve the hygiene and quality of raw milk. Milk is a raw material processed for different lines of goods – for instance, prominent Holland cheese and butter. Thus, final product is hard to be tasty if the raw milk is not of high quality.
The best Dutch innovation practices of recent few years concern also greenhouses and their equipment. One of the criteria that we take into consideration while elaborating technologies is the impact on the environment. The European society pays much attention to this factor and producers must satisfy the requirements. In our greenhouses vegetable growing is based on the technologies that save natural resources, reduce water consummation and nonetheless augment yields. On average, a Holland greenhouse is capable to produce 80 kilograms of tomatoes per square meter. We try to consume rationally natural light from the outside using special glasses.
Step by step, these innovations are in the process of being introduced in Russia. One of the examples is the joint Holland-Russian project undertaken in Kaluga region in the company “Agroinvest”. The greenhouses are equipped with LED-lighting, and this technology gives the possibility to have fresh cucumbers and tomatoes all the year and to increase yields – especially in winter. At the same time we save more than 50% of energy in comparison with high-pressure sodium lamps.
- What is your opinion about organic production? Do the Netherlands favour this direction of agribusiness more than Russia?
- If we compare the current state of affairs with the situation that took place 20 years old, a lot has changed in terms of food safety and ecological characteristics of agricultural production. Today this subject, regarding raw materials and processed products, is in the focus of attention of producers and monitoring bodies. In the Netherlands there is even a political party specialized on animal welfare.
Organic production is not mainstream yet, it is still a niche market. Nowadays this sector is dynamically developing in many countries, the Netherlands among them. However, the advancement takes time. I don’t have exact figures, but I think in the Netherlands organic food accounts for 10, maybe 15 % of the total food market.
Besides, not only organic production should be considered as a safe one. Our producers do their best to minimize the use of pesticides, search for some biological alternatives. The consummation of antibiotics in poultry, cattle and pig breeding is going down: in 6-7 years it has reduced by more than 60%.
I guess that a lot of tendencies that we can already observe in Europe are likely to take shape in Russia over the next years. My position means the coordination of the Dutch partnership with the countries of the Euro-Asian economic – Russia, Kazakhstan, Belarus, Armenia, Kirgizstan, Uzbekistan. So, I follow the development of their agrarian sector, appreciate the successes of national enterprises. That is why I believe that our cooperation with the Russian Federation has promising prospects.