“The drive of Chinese farmers is inspiring”

Worldwide, the agricultural sector faces many challenges. Whether it’s feeding a growing population, coping with pollution or water management, farmers have to be innovative. But there’s an additional challenge: both in China and the Netherlands the farmer population is ageing quickly. A new generation of farmers will soon have to take over. Suzanne Ruesink, 33 years old, is currently leading a small mission of young Dutch farmers in China. “We discovered there is so much to learn. We all face global challenges such as social and environmental pressure. By partnering up with young farmers worldwide we can make an impact.”

“Back in November 2017 I first visited China, together with other EU young farmers,” Suzanne Ruesink explains. Living in Aalten, a village in the east of the Netherlands, she grew up on the dairy and pig farm she owns together with her parents. With her sister she also organizes events such as the Farm & Country Fair. “With 9 European young farmers we came to build ties and exchange knowledge with Chinese farmers. I noticed that Chinese farmers have such a drive. It’s interesting to see how they manage the entire food chain themselves and how fast the countryside is developing.”

After her return to the Netherlands, she inspired other Dutch farmers. “I spoke to many other farmers, who then became interested in Chinese agriculture. During my previous visits I met many people who were willing to put together a special program for us. Three of the four farmers joining me on this trip have received a Nuffield Scholarship, which is a special grant in the agricultural field. The grant offers them the opportunityto spend two years travelling the world, researching and evaluating agricultural systems.”

One of the main topics of discussion during the visit is the relationship between farmers and their surrounding communities. This is also an important topic so Suzanne, who receives thousands of visitors at her farm every year. The group therefore also visited a Community Shared Agriculture (CSA) initiative. CSA’s are a partnership where local farmers and citizens work cooperate. Citizens can for instance financially support the farm, in return for some of the harvest.

Suzanne is positive about the exchange taking place. “There’s so much we can learn from each other,” Suzanne notes. “We’re trying to feed the world and the Netherlands has an abundance of knowledge. However, we’re just a small country and cooperation with China can really offer opportunities. I think Chinese and Dutch farmers are a good match. We’re both ambitious, interested in working with new technologies and key players in the agricultural world.”

Funding for young farmers

The Dutch Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality announced a special fund for Young Farmers earlier this week. The 75 million euros fund aims to ensure that, also in the future, Dutch farmers can play a leading role in food production. It will support young farmers interested in starting up a farm or taking over a farm with funding and coaching.