Dutch farmers are optimistic despite tough challenges

31 January 1997

Dutch farmers are optimistic despite tough challenges

OVER the past four months the outlook of Hollands farmers has changed from one of buoyancy to cautious optimism.

Up until October, arable farmers had enjoyed two good years. Prices and yields for potatoes and onions were high, said the director of Hollands farm machinery federation, Gerrit Weijers.

"If those two crops do well, then our arable farmers are profitable. An additional bonus was higher cereal prices, experienced in 1995 and early last season," he said.

Dairy farms also fared well, although the BSE crisis had depressed prices and dented confidence. Some of those losses have been made up by Dutch pig producers who were reinvesting profits to comply with the latest pollution control legislation.

"Some manufacturers of buildings and storage are cashing in on that trend. But, as we all know, pig prices can change quickly and that market could soon see a downturn," said Mr Weijers.

Meanwhile, Hollands farmers are becoming increasingly concerned about freer world trade, lower commodity prices and the future of milk quotas. But the countrys machinery industry is confident that new technology, designed to enhance crop quality, reduce production costs and help meet strict new legislation, will put a floor in the market, explained Mr Weijers.

"There are already signs at the RAI Show that arable farmers, despite lower crop prices, are investing more in root packaging and cleaning equipment. That is to help them prepare their crops better for the market.

"They are also turning to the latest sprayer technology, both to cut agrochemical costs and comply with tougher legislation."

Livestock farmers are facing a similar challenge. If Hollands agricultural ministry succeeds in introducing minimum soil nitrogen and phosphate residue limits, many producers could face stiff financial penalties if they dont apply fertiliser and slurry accurately.

The optimum residue levels will be based on trials being carried out on 250 livestock farms across the country. Meanwhile, all farmers must keep records to show the quantity of nitrogen applied, either in slurry or inorganic fertilisers, and the amount utilised by conserved grass or grazing livestock.

If soil residues exceed certain thresholds, farmers risk fines of up to £1700, said Mr Weijers.

Although the law is not likely to be enforced for a few years, it has already stimulated greater interest in precision fertiliser and slurry application equipment, he said.n

Stephen Howe

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