State of Agriculture, Nature and Food: Agricultural businesses increasingly finding additional sources of income

December 11, 2023

The number of farms with an additional source of income increased to 24,434 in 2023, 10% more than in 2020.This means half of all farmers derive income from alternative activities, such as a farm shop, agricultural nature and landscape management, a campsite, or renewable energy production for third parties.

This is one of the many statistics cited in the 2023 edition of Staat van Landbouw, Natuur en Voedsel (State of Agriculture, Nature and Food), a report produced by Wageningen University & Research and Statistics Netherlands at the request of the Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality. The report provides a broad overview of developments in agriculture, nature management and food sectors.

Total agribusiness sector

The added value of the total agribusiness sector in 2021 was about €57bn, which is about 7% of GDP. Employment grew to 600,000 annual work units (AWU) in 2021, which is 7.5% of total national employment.

In 2022, the Netherlands earned €76.3bn from the sale of agricultural products, of which €48.3bn from exports and €28.0bn from domestic sales. Total earnings from agricultural goods sales for all industries in the Netherlands combined accounted for 8.0% of GDP in 2022.

Consumption, including sustainable food products

Dutch households consumed around €411bn worth of products and services in 2022, of which over €47bn was spent on food and non-alcoholic beverages. Spending on food and non-alcoholic beverages accounted for 11.4% of total consumption expenditure on products and services in 2022.

The share of food with a sustainability label is under pressure due to price increases. In 2022, this share fell slightly to 18% (19% in 2021). This is a break in the trend of growth over the previous years.

Agricultural and horticultural sectors, structural developments

The number of agricultural and horticultural businesses decreased by more than 1,100 in 2022 to slightly less than 51,000 businesses, a decline of 2.2%. Between 2016 and 2021 the number of businesses declined by an average of 1.3% per year, compared to 2.8% from 2000 to 2015.

The size of Dutch agriculture and horticulture businesses varies widely, from a large group of very small farms (37% of all farms in 2022) to a small group of very large farms (9% in 2022).

The area of cultivated land in use by registered agricultural and horticultural businesses declined by 7,500 ha (-0.4%) to 1.804m ha in 2022. The volume of labour in agriculture and horticulture decreased by 1,500 AWU to 158,900 in 2022 (-0.9%). 2022 was the first year that more external hires worked in the agriculture sector than family members.

In 2023, 43% of the 27,970 businesses run by a farmer of 55 or older had appointed a successor (compared to 34% in 2012 and 41% in 2020). The size of farm plays an important role in this succession: the bigger the farm business, the more successors it will have.

Organic agriculture and horticulture

According to the Statistics Netherlands Agricultural Census, the number of certified organic agricultural and horticultural businesses increased by 1%, to 1,879 in 2023. This was the lowest increase since 2016 (in 2018 the number of organic businesses increased by 11%). The increase in organic hectares mainly took place on existing certified organic farms. The area of land under organic management continued to increase in 2023 to 80,360 ha, an increase of 6,007 ha (8%) compared to 2022.

Environment and nature

The production volume of Dutch agriculture has increased since 1995. The use of pesticides, fertiliser and manure has declined since 1995, while fossil energy consumption has remained more or less constant. Emissions of greenhouse gases, nitrogen, phosphorus and particulate matter from agriculture also decreased compared to 1995.

Emissions of greenhouse gases have decreased only marginally in recent years. In 2021, for example, greenhouse gas emissions were between the levels for 2000 and 2001, and the total nitrogen surplus was only slightly below the 2011 level. Phosphorus and particulate matter have continued to steadily decrease, however. The agriculture sector’s water consumption has varied between 100 and 350m m3 over the last 18 years, and is highly dependent on the weather conditions during the growing season. In hot and dry years, more ground and surface water is used for irrigation.

Habitats Directive

Most protected species and habitats in the Netherlands that fall under the Habitats Directive have an unfavourable conservation status. For instance, based on the most recent surveys (2018), only 26% of protected plant and animal species and 12% of habitats are in a “favourable state”. The Directive’s goal of achieving a favourable conservation status for Europe’s important species and habitats at the national level is thus still far beyond reach for the Netherlands.

For decades now, Dutch environmental and nature policy has included measures to improve environmental and nature quality. For example, since about 1990, nature restoration measures have been carried out and the area under nature conservation management has been expanded to create a “Nature Network Netherlands” (NNN). The area of land acquired for nature management (or given this function) to achieve the NNN has increased, and on 1 January 2021 totalled over 115,000 ha. However, the result achieved by environmental and nature policies is still insufficient to create adequate conditions for sustainable restoration of all habitats and species. For instance, agricultural water management, pesticide use and overuse of fertilisers are all leading to a decline in nature quality and the local disappearance of protected or characteristic species.