Netherlands has used advances in vertical farming, seed know-how and robotics to turn out to be a worldwide mannequin

Dutch Vertical Farming | Laura Reiley |

The rallying cry within the Netherlands began 20 years in the past, as concern mounted about its means to feed its 17 million folks: Produce twice as a lot meals utilizing half as many assets.

The nation, which is a bit larger than Maryland, not solely achieved this feat but additionally has turn out to be the world’s second largest exporter of agricultural merchandise by worth behind the USA. Maybe much more important within the face of a warming planet: It’s among the many largest exporters of agricultural and meals know-how. The Dutch have pioneered cell-cultured meat, vertical farming, seed know-how and robotics in milking and harvesting — spearheading improvements that concentrate on decreased water utilization in addition to lowered carbon and methane emissions.

Netherlands (to scale) United States

The Netherlands produces 4 million cows, 13 million pigs and 104 million chickens yearly and is Europe’s greatest meat exporter. However it additionally gives greens to a lot of Western Europe. The nation has practically 24,000 acres — nearly twice the dimensions of Manhattan — of crops rising in greenhouses. These greenhouses, with much less fertilizer and water, can develop in a single acre what would take 10 acres of conventional filth farming to realize. Dutch farms use solely a half-gallon of water to develop a couple of pound of tomatoes, whereas the worldwide common is greater than 28 gallons.

Nothing is hand-harvested, nothing is touched by human arms. The water is recirculated, that means no water is misplaced within the rising course of.


Greater than half of the land within the Netherlands is used for agriculture. The Dutch usually say their singular deal with meals manufacturing is born of the harrowing famine the nation skilled throughout World Conflict II. However it could possibly be argued that the preoccupation with meals started within the seventeenth century, when the Dutch had been on the middle of the worldwide spice commerce.

Their centrality in international meals exploration is indeniable: Fifteen out of the highest 20 largest agrifood companies — Nestlé, Coca-Cola, Unilever, Cargill and Kraft Heinz — have main analysis and growth facilities within the Netherlands.

With their restricted land and a wet local weather, the Dutch have turn out to be masters of effectivity. However there are challenges: The greenhouse business has flourished partly due to low-cost vitality, however Western Europe is dealing with hovering gasoline costs. And the nation’s intensive animal agricultural practices are additionally in danger. This summer time, a conservative authorities coalition pledged to halve nitrogen emissions by 2030, which might necessitate a dramatic discount within the variety of animals raised within the nation. Farmers and ranchers have protested, and it stays to be seen how this standoff can be resolved.


Dutch corporations are the world’s high suppliers of seeds for decorative crops and greens. There’s an space within the northwest referred to as Seed Valley, the place new kinds of greens and flowers are in fixed growth. Enza Zaden is headquartered right here, simply north of Amsterdam.

In three generations, Enza Zaden has advanced from a family-owned seed store into a worldwide market chief in vegetable breeding, with greater than 2,500 workers and 45 subsidiaries in 25 international locations.

Jaap Mazereeuw, Enza Zaden’s managing director, stated the corporate spends $100 million yearly on analysis, introducing about 150 new vegetable varieties every year.

“We’re very a lot a analysis firm,” he stated. “With climate change, we’re seeing the climate turning into extra excessive. We’re resilient varieties, seeds for natural farms in addition to varieties which can be extra salt tolerant for locations the place water high quality shouldn’t be good. We have to discover options for subsistence farmers all the best way as much as large-scale farmers.”

“We have now our personal indoor farm right here the place we develop the kinds of the longer term, crops that may develop shortly and be harvested shortly: lettuce, herbs, leafy crops. The genetics will be improved, in addition to the entire know-how — indoor farming will solely turn out to be cheaper. It’s nonetheless early days for the business,” Mazereeuw stated.

Greater than 12 billion heads of lettuce are grown every year from Enza Zaden’s seeds, nevertheless it was a tomato within the early Nineteen Sixties that actually put the corporate on the map — and maybe what, in flip, put the Netherlands on the map for tomatoes. The nation’s greenhouses produce practically 1,000,000 tons of tomatoes a yr, with exports totaling round $2 billion yearly.

“There’s a brand new tomato virus and we just lately discovered the resistance to that virus in our seed financial institution,” Mazereeuw stated. The corporate shops its seeds in a temperature-controlled vault — referred to as a seed financial institution — to protect genetic range, however as a result of seeds don’t keep viable without end, every saved selection should be grown out and people seeds, in flip, saved. It’s all of significant significance, Mazereeuw stated: “If we speak about meals or garments or vitality or animal husbandry — all the things begins with crops.”


A technician walks between partitions rising cucumbers at PlantLab in Amsterdam. PlantLab focuses on know-how for city farming and has the largest indoor farm in Europe, situated within the coronary heart of Amsterdam within the former IBM typewriter manufacturing facility.

Nature is brutal. There will be an excessive amount of solar. Or not sufficient. Bugs maraud. Rain washes seeds away.

“We consider we will do significantly better than nature,” stated Eelco Ockers, chief govt of PlantLab, which develops and operates custom-built indoor farms worldwide — methods they name “plant manufacturing items.” Indoor vertical farmers commerce within the free energy of the solar for far more costly electrical gentle, however the profit is they’ll far more simply management each variable to get constant and dependable yield, Ockers stated.

The three founders put collectively their first prototype in 2008 and launched the corporate in 2010, serving to Dutch greenhouse and indoor farmers improve yields with LED lights even when the know-how was in its infancy. They’ve a system whereby sufficient crops to provide 100,000 residents every day with practically half a pound of contemporary greens every will be grown in an space no bigger than two soccer fields.

Earlier this yr PlantLab obtained 50 million euros (about $51.6 million) in funding capital to open extra manufacturing websites exterior the Netherlands to develop greens with out pesticides or herbicides on a big scale very near its customers. The corporate’s purpose is to broaden extra broadly in the USA, Asia and Latin America within the subsequent 5 years, with the intention of getting 250 acres of its vertical farms worldwide within the subsequent 10 years.

PlantLab’s analysis and growth middle in Den Bosch is the most important such middle for vertical farming on the planet, and it makes use of restricted gentle spectrum LEDs and plastic stacked manufacturing trays, and the crops develop in vermiculite with their roots in water. “Nothing is hand-harvested, nothing is touched by human arms,” Ockers stated. The water is recirculated, that means no water is misplaced within the rising course of. For now, the system is best for rising leafy greens, herbs and tomatoes, however he stated cucumbers, zucchinis and all forms of berries are suited to this rising system. And by limiting the time between harvest and consumption, he stated, meals waste is minimized and nutrient density is way larger than historically grown crops.Lettuces grown on water in a Siberia Greenhouse system in Maasbree.

Lengthy rows of seedlings are moved from vertical shelving to beds of water by equipment. (The Washington Submit)

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