The Netherlands Agricultural trade & Developments

Business & Trade The Netherlands

Agricultural-trade-&-DevelopmentsThe Netherlands
Agricultural trade & Developments

April 2009


The Dutch economy has a strong international orientation and the agricultural sector is no different. In 2006, the Netherlands exported agricultural products with a value approximating 54.2 thousand million euros, which was equivalent to 17% of the total export value in that year. Most exports go to other Member States of the European Union. The Netherlands imported agricultural products amounting to 30.8 thousand million euros, or 11% of the value of total Dutch imports.

The Netherlands is the second largest exporter of agricultural products in the world, after the US and followed by France. In 2005 Dutch exports of agricultural products amounted to USD 59.5 thousand million (US: USD 84.3 thousand million, France: USD 55.7 thousand million). The ten leading agricultural exporters accounted for a share of over half of total world exports. In 2005 the Netherlands had a 7% share in global agricultural exports, down slightly on 2004, but 3.5 percentage points higher than in 2000.

Types of trade

The trade in agricultural products to and from the Netherlands is diverse. Ornamentals and plants make up the bulk of agricultural exports. In 2006, the value of these exports totaled 7.9 thousand million euros, which is almost 15% of the total agricultural product export value. Other major export products are meat and meat products (5.9 thousand million euros) and dairy products (4.4 thousand million euros). In addition to these exports, a substantial amount of agricultural products is imported into the Netherlands, mainly meat and dairy products.

Development in agriculture and horticulture

Developments-in-the-agri-sectorThe Dutch agriculture and horticulture sector entered a new phase in the last few decades of the twentieth century and is now characterised by expansion and increase in intensity and productivity. In 2006 the number of farms in the Netherlands amounted to 79,435. Dairy farms made up the largest group, totalling 20,429, followed by farms with grazing stock, cows for slaughter, sheep and goats, which amounted to 18,369. The number of arable farms, producing mainly cereals, potatoes and sugar beets, was 12,163. There were 7,091 intensive livestock farms, i.e. farms with pigs or poultry. Some 14,480 businesses operated in the field vegetable and glasshouse sector. Finally, 6,903 businesses combined a number of branches of production.

Between 1990 and 2006 the number of farms has fallen by almost a third, which is mainly due to the decline in the number of small farms. However, the number of large farms has increased considerably. In 2006 the average intensive livestock farm was twice as large as in 1990, and the average broiler farm was three and a half times larger.

Some large farms have increased in size by such an extent that they are now classed as mega-farms. A typical mega-farm would have some 410 dairy cows 12,800 fattening pigs, 186,000 layers or 385 ha of arable land. Mega-farms are relatively common in glasshouse horticulture, as recent years have seen an enormous increase in the size of these businesses. The average size of these businesses has more than doubled between 1986 and 2006. Five percent have an area over 5 ha, and account for over one quarter of the total area for glasshouse horticulture. 10% of businesses in the glasshouse vegetable sector have an area of 5 ha or more, accounting for almost 40% of the total area for this sector. The Netherlands had almost 1,600 mega-farms in 2006, representing 2% of the total amount of farms. In 2006 mega-farms accounted for 22% of total production capacity, compared to 17% in 2004.


The Netherlands has a total land surface of over 3.7 million ha. Some 52% of the land, or 1.9 million ha, is farmland. This is 1.2% of the total farmland area in the EU-25. Of the total farmland in the Netherlands 57% is used for the cultivation of arable and horticulture crops, 40% is permanent grassland and some 2% is used for permanent crops.

Production value

Total production value of the agriculture and horticulture sector in 2006 was over 20 thousand million euros. Arable and horticulture crops accounted for 11.2 thousand million euros and the value of livestock and animal products was 8.9 thousand million euros. In the arable and horticulture sector, flowers and ornamental plants made up the largest share, with 53%. Dairy products had the largest share of the livestock and animal products sector. The production value of the agriculture and horticulture sector was 1.7% of the Gross National Product, which is higher than the EU-25 average of 1.3%.

Organic agriculture

Developments in organic agriculture are moving slowly. In 2006 the land under organic crops was 2.5% of total farmland, the same as in 2005. An area of 48, 424 ha was under organic crops by the end of 2005, almost 1% less than in 2004. By the end of 2006 there were 1,362 certified farms, roughly the same number as in 2005. Most of the organic area (70%), is grassland and silage for grazing stock. Potatoes, fruit and vegetables cover an area of 5,865 ha, cereals an area of 5,168 ha. Another 3,455 is either set-aside, nature area or ornamental crops. Compared to the rest of the EU the Netherlands, with its 2.5% are under organic crops, occupies a position somewhere in the middle. The EU average is some 3.9%. Italy leads with over 1 million ha under organic management, roughly 7% of the total farmland in that country. Austria, with over 14%, has the largest share in relative terms. A large proportion of the organic products grown in the Netherlands is sold abroad. Over half or organic open field vegetables are exported, mostly to the UK and Germany, and 85% of organic tomatoes are exported. Demand for organic tomatoes in the Netherlands is high, and as they are not produced year round in the Netherlands, a growing number or organic tomatoes are imported. In 2006, 1,011 tonnes of organic tomatoes were imported, almost twice as much as in 2005. Furthermore, a significant proportion of organic potatoes are exported. In 2006 the Netherlands exported 5,000 tonnes of organic potatoes were exported, mainly to the UK, Germany and Greece. The Netherlands imported 2,500 tonnes organic potatoes to meet domestic consumer demand. These potatoes were mainly earlies and came from Italy, Germany, Egypt and Israel.

Land and population

The-Netherlands The Netherlands is one of the smaller countries of the European Union, comprising about 41,500 km2. More than half of this area is farmed, and about 8% is woodland. As at 1 January 2007, the Netherlands had a population of over 16.4 million people. Almost a quarter of the population is under 20 years of age. Life expectancy at birth for men born in the Netherlands is 77.2, for women 81.6 years. Population density, the mean number of inhabitants per square kilometre, is 484, making the Netherlands one of the most densely populated countries in the world. The Netherlands has some 7.2 million households, with 2.6 million people living alone. The average number of people living in a household is 2.24. About 19% of the population lives in extremely urban surroundings, and almost 23% lives in a highly urban environment. Over a fifth of the population lives is non-urbanised areas.

The Netherlands has 458 municipalities, 25 of which have a population over 100,000. Amsterdam, with a population of 743.000, is the capital of the Netherlands. Rotterdam and The Hague are the next largest cities, with populations of 589,000 and 475,000 respectively. The Netherlands is a multicultural society. Some 3.2 million inhabitants have a non-native background. Of this group, 1.7 million have their roots in non-western countries. The majority of non-western allochtonous inhabitants are of Turkish origin, followed by people of Surinamese and Moroccan origin. The rural areas in the Netherlands are under considerable pressure from development. Finding a balanced assessment between the different functions of the rural areas, between agriculture, nature, business parks, housing and roads, is a political matter.


The Netherlands has a mixed market economy, in which both the private and public sector play important roles. The economy has a strong international orientation. The Netherlands is one of the wealthiest countries in the world, with an excellent reputation for trade and a high level of financial and professional services. It is among the three largest agricultural exporters, next to the United States and France. The Netherlands has a good transport infrastructure. The Port of Rotterdam is the largest transhipment port, making the Netherlands a major transit country for all sorts of goods.

The Netherlands has an attractive climate for business and our workforce has a high productivity, which has meant that many international corporations have decided to establish their headquarters here. The Gross National Product has grown steadily to 534 thousand million euros from 418 thousand million euros in 2000. The GNP volume-index rate was 109.1 in 2006 compared to 113.4 for the whole of the EU-27. Growth is thus lagging behind but the GNP volume is expected to grow again by 2.75 and 2.5% in 2007 and 2008 respectively, which will be in line with overall EU growth.

Source: Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality, Netherlands


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