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The changing role of agriculture in Dutch society

  • B. G. MEERBURG (a1), H. KOREVAAR (a1), D. K. HAUBENHOFER (a1), M. BLOM-ZANDSTRA (a1) and H. VAN KEULEN (a1)...

Dutch agriculture has undergone significant changes in the past century, similar to many countries in the European Union. Due to economies of scale and in order to remain economically profitable, it became necessary for farmers to increase farm size, efficiency and external inputs, while minimizing labour use per hectare. The latter has resulted in fewer people working in the agricultural sector. Consequently, Dutch society gradually lost its connection to agricultural production. This divergence resulted in a poor image for the agricultural sector, because of environmental pollution, homogenization of the landscape, outbreaks of contagious animal diseases and reduced animal welfare. Although the general attitude towards agriculture seems to have improved slightly in recent years, there is still a long way to go in regaining this trust.

In order to keep the Dutch countryside viable, farmers are considered indispensable. However, their methods of production should match the demands of society in terms of sustainability. This applies both to farming systems that are used in a monofunctional way (production only) and to multifunctional farming systems. For researchers involved in development of these farming systems, this requires new capabilities; contrary to the situation in the past, citizens and stakeholder groups now demand involvement in the design of farming systems. In the current paper, it is suggested that, besides traditional mainstream agriculture, other alternative farming systems should be developed and implemented. Hence, Dutch agricultural research should remain focused on the cutting edge of economy and society. Despite all efforts, not all of these newly developed systems will acquire a position within the agricultural spectrum. However, some of the successful ones may prove extremely valuable.

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