These Dutch tomatoes can teach the world about sustainable agriculture

tomatos

(Lars Blankers, Unsplash)

This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Kate Whiting, Senior Writer, Formative Content


  • To feed 10 billion people by 2050 at the current level of food production efficiency, we’d have to clear most of the world’s forests.
  • The Netherlands is a leader in efficient and sustainable agriculture – and the second-largest exporter of agricultural goods in the world.
  • Duijvestijn Tomatoes uses a hydroponic system and geothermal energy to limit its impact on the environment, while maximizing yield.

The Netherlands might be a small country, but it’s the second-largest exporter of agriculture in the world, after the United States. In 2017, the Netherlands exported $111 billion worth of agricultural goods, including $10 billion of flowers and $7.4 billion of vegetables.

 

So what makes it such a David of the global food industry, compared to the US Goliath?

Total agricultural exports from the Netherlands in 2017
Image: Government of the Netherlands

Ad van Adrichem, general manager for Duijvestijn Tomatoes, explains: “Holland is pretty crowded. Our land is quite expensive and labour is expensive, so we have to be more efficient than others to compete. And that competition drives innovation and technology.”

Duijvestijn Tomatoes is an example of sustainable, innovative agriculture. Since 2011, it has been using geothermal energy to heat its greenhouses, and the plants grow in a hydroponic system to use less water.

The tomatoes are grown in small bags of rockwool substrate, made from spinning together molten basaltic rock into fine fibres, which contains nutrients and allows the plants to soak up water even when moisture levels are low.

Precision techniques are used to maximize tomato yields.
These tomatoes are grown in a geothermal greenhouse grow with a hydroponic system to use less water.
Image: WWF/Netflix

No pesticides are used and the farm pipes waste CO2 into the greenhouses from a local Shell oil refinery, which the plants need to grow, and which reduces the carbon dioxide being released into the atmosphere.

The greenhouse has a double glass roof to conserve heat as well as LED lights, which mean the plants can keep growing through the night.

Precision farming

All of this means the team at Duijvestijn can produce higher yields of tomatoes, in less space, using fewer resources.

“Our greenhouses cover an area of 14 hectares, and we produce around 100 million tomatoes a year,” says van Adrichem.

“The idea is we can steer everything very precisely. We use all the new techniques and all the innovations with the minimum impact on the environment.”

The greenhouses produce about 100 million tomatoes a year.
Duijvestijn Tomatoes in the Netherlands grows 100 million tomatoes per year.
Image: WWF/Netflix

By 2050, we’ll need to feed 10 billion people on the planet, which will be more challenging due to the impact climate change is having on our soil.

The recent World Resources Report warns if our current level of production efficiency continues, feeding the planet in 2050 would require “clearing most of the world’s remaining forests, wiping out thousands more species, and releasing enough greenhouse gas emissions to exceed the 1.5°C and 2°C warming targets enshrined in the Paris Agreement – even if emissions from all other human activities were entirely eliminated.”

So, it’s crucial the innovative agriculture techniques being used in countries like the Netherlands are scaled up and rolled out worldwide. We just need to commit resources in the short-term for future gain.

“Sometimes sustainable solutions cost a bit more in the short-term, but in the long-term they should be more effective and that’s actually what we are seeing,” says van Adrichem.

“You need to have the guts to invest in those kinds of things for the long-term.”

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