Wageningen University & Research: State of Agriculture and Food: Stable trends in the agricultural sector

This is one of the many facts in the Staat van Landbouw en Voedsel (State of Agriculture and Food) report produced by Wageningen University & Research and Statistics Netherlands at the request of the Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality.

The aim of this survey is to offer a broad overview of the Dutch agricultural sector. Based on a data and literature review, the researchers compiled information about, among other things, economic indicators such as added value and employment, the chain structure of various products, international trade, food sales channels and consumption, structural features of companies throughout the entire agricultural chain, income development, company dynamics within the chain, innovation, the environmental impact of agricultural production, and the impact of agriculture on the sustainable development goals of the UN (SDGs).

The entire agricultural complex
In 2019, the added value of the total agricultural complex represented €56 billion, approximately 7% of the Dutch gross domestic product (GDP). In terms of value, in 2020, the Netherlands was the second largest exporter (including re-export) of agricultural goods after the US. In 2020, sales of agricultural goods amounted to €71 billion. Of this, 60% was earned through export (of which over 75% to the EU) and 40% through internal sales.

Consumption, sustainability and food waste
Supermarkets are the most important food sales channel. In 2019, approximately 53% of the €65 billion worth of food expenditure was spent in supermarkets. Thirty-two percent of our food expenditure was spent in the food service, i.e. restaurants, cafés and sandwich bars. The COVID-19 pandemic led to more food being purchased online and in the retail sector. Sixteen percent of food expenditure was spent on food with sustainability labels. The Beter Leven (Better Life) label scored best, followed by Biologisch (Organic) and UTZ Certified.

We still waste a lot of food. In 2018, the Dutch threw away between 94 and 149 kilograms of food per capita. Since this year, a number of steps have been taken to counter food waste. There are no solid figures on this yet. Twelve years of market development for animal welfare reveal a shift towards more animal-friendly products in the supermarket. Demand from Dutch consumers only played a minor role in promoting animal welfare.

Agricultural and horticultural sectors, structural developments
According to the agricultural census, the number of agricultural and horticultural companies decreased by 500 in 2020, leading to a total of 52,700. This constitutes a light decrease of 1% compared to 2019. The total agricultural acreage also decreased by 0.1% to 1814 million hectares. Between 2000 and 2020, the total acreage decreased by 0.4% per year. In 2019, the average balance value by the end of the fiscal year for agricultural and horticultural companies exceeded €3.5 million, representing an increase of €700,000 compared to 2015.

The work volume in the agricultural and horticultural sectors increased by 1% in 2020 to 157,700 annual work units, a measure used within the agricultural and horticultural sectors to express the number of full-time jobs. The holders of agricultural and horticultural companies are ageing. The number of agricultural and horticultural companies with a holder aged 50 or older increased to 71% between 2012 and 2020. In 2020, 40% of the 34,100 companies with a holder aged 50 or older had an appointed successor The number of dairy cows increased slightly in 2020. So did the number of chickens, while the number of pigs and other grazing livestock decreased.

Innovation, organic or not?
In 2020, the Netherlands counted 2,019 organic agricultural and horticultural companies. This represents an increase of 3% compared to the previous year. In 2020, more than 42% of farming companies, 22,000 in total, broadened their activities, for example by starting a cheese dairy or shop, or engaging in agricultural nature management. More than 30% of companies with 10 employees or more engaged in some form of innovation between 2016 and 2018. In 2019, agricultural companies spent more than €1 billion on research and development (R&D).

Sustainability and environment
Since the mid-1990s, the agricultural sector has made great strides when it comes to sustainability. Most of these steps were taken in the first decade of the 21st century. Greenhouse gas emissions in the agricultural and horticultural sector have dropped by 18% since 1990. As for particulate matter: in 2018, 18% of all particulate matter came from the agricultural sector, with the poultry sector being responsible for the largest contribution (62%).

In 2020, the amount of phosphate in animal manure was more than 22 million kilograms lower than the production ceiling set by the European Union. In both 2019 and 2020, total nitrogen generation was 490 million kilograms, a few percent below the EU production ceiling Ammonia emission decreased by 5% in 2019 compared to the previous year, amounting to nearly 106 million kilograms. To realise the desired preservation of agricultural diversity, we need a broad strategy. With an appropriate revenue model, the economy and nature inclusiveness, including agricultural nature management, can strengthen and benefit one another. In this context, nature-inclusive agriculture plays a crucial role in the future of agriculture.

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