Farming the Future at Beijing’s Horti Expo

The Netherlands is a small country, feeding the world. At the Beijing International Horticulture Expo, visitors can experience the Dutch green city of the future. During the Dutch Day on June 17, Jan-Kees Goet, Secretary General at the Dutch Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality officially opened the Dutch garden: “We are here to showcase the innovative Dutch horticulture sector.”

Circular agriculture

At the Dutch Days SG Goet introduced the ministry’s ‘Farming the Future’ campaign during a seminar on sustainable horticulture management. “It entails that we aim to make the sector more sustainable and connected. In other words: to make the sector future proof. The old model where countries aim to produce the maximum amount of crops for as little money as possible is not sustainable towards the future. That is not just ideology, but also basic necessity to protect our earth and biodiversity. In the Netherlands, we strive to realize a circular agricultural chain by 2030. We’re talking about all steps from farm to table.” 

This new approach to farming combines sustainability with innovation. At the seminar, these examples were highlighted, both by Dutch and Chinese speakers. “Innovation is an important piece of the puzzle. It helps us make the sector more sustainable and at the same time cope with challenges from the past. In the Netherlands and many other countries we’ve struggled with soil salinity. We’ve enhanced potatoes so they can also grow in saline areas. That’s both good for our harvests, but it’s also an interesting export product,” Mr. Goet explains.

Triple A from farm to table

Innovation also plays a key role in getting triple A quality products from farm to table without loss of quality. A system is only as strong as the weakest chain. Many countries are looking to the Netherlands to get the value from the land to the consumer with as little loss as possible. Guest speaker at the seminar Inge Ribbens, Policy Officer at Fresh Produce Center, highlighted this in her session, where she discussed Dutch innovations to keep food and produce fresh in a sustainable way. The tomato which leaves the greenhouse should be on the consumers table in the same Triple A state. And not just within the Netherlands but also over larger distances. As an example, Dutch flowers cut in the morning will be on the market in New York without loss of quality.

Making such a change towards more sustainability is not something one farmer or even one country can achieve on its own. International cooperation is essential, explains Mr. Goet. “Cooperation is a crucial ingredient to make the sector futureproof. It’s great to have initiatives such as this International Horticultural Expo or it’s Dutch alternative the Floriade. And let us not forget, it’s not just about governments. Cooperation with universities and between businesses is key to move forward. It’s important that it’s not just about the Netherlands ‘bringing’ knowledge and showcasing what we can do. But by truly connecting we can add value and also again further our own knowledge.”

Keeping up to date

As a child, Mr. Goet grew up on a farm. He sees similarities but also differences when it comes to the current state of the Dutch agricultural sector. “An important similarity is that when I was a child my father would visit participation evenings, talk about developments or visit seminars to gather more knowledge. Keeping up to date is still an important part of a life for people in the sector. One of the differences is that we’ve come a long way in tackling animal or plant diseases and there’s more awareness on climate change and quality of life for farmers. I’m proud and grateful to be in this position, as I believe I can understand the challenges of individual farmers. As a government and also as knowledge institutes, we have a responsibility within the production chain towards the farmers. That’s an important driver for me.”