13 June 2024
Dutch farmers struggle extreme weather

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Dutch farmers struggle through extreme weather. The sub-zero temperatures have a detrimental effect on crops that were prevented from being harvested due to the extreme precipitation in recent months. Potatoes still in the fields in January are to be considered lost. Wijnand Sukkel of Wageningen University & Research says, “Farmers deal with increasingly extreme weather. WUR seeks solutions in lighter farming machinery and breeding varieties that are more resilient against extreme weather.

Dutch Farmers Weather Struggle: Battling the Elements



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The Netherlands, renowned for its picturesque landscapes and vibrant tulip fields, is currently facing a formidable challenge due to extreme weather conditions. Unseasonably low temperatures and excessive rainfall have wreaked havoc on agricultural practices, leaving farmers struggling to salvage their crops and livelihoods.

The Toll of Extreme Weather on Dutch Farmers

The sub-zero temperatures have had a devastating impact on crops that were unable to be harvested due to persistent precipitation in recent months. Potatoes, a staple crop in the region, have been particularly hard-hit, with those remaining in the fields in January deemed unsalvageable.

Wijnand Sukkel, a researcher in sustainable agriculture at Wageningen University & Research, paints a grim picture of the situation. “Farmers are grappling with increasingly extreme weather patterns,” he says. “We at WUR are actively seeking solutions to mitigate these challenges, exploring lighter farming machinery and developing crop varieties more resilient to such conditions.”

The Vicious Cycle of Soil Saturation and Dutch Farmers’ Struggle

The relentless rainfall has saturated the soil to the point where it can no longer support the weight of harvesting equipment or be prepared for sowing. As a result, an estimated 5-10% of the potato, carrot, and sugar beet harvest remains unharvested. Grain farmers, too, have been unable to sow winter grains, further exacerbating the agricultural crisis.

“Last year’s wet spring delayed the planting of potato and sugarbeet crops,” explains Sukkel. “When the time came for harvesting, the soil was once again drenched, making it impossible for heavy harvesting combines to operate without getting stuck. This, coupled with the excessive water content in the ground, severely affects soil structure, pushing out air and jeopardizing crop health. Compaction further prevents water infiltration, exacerbating the problem in the years to come.”

The Plight of Spring-Flowering Bulbs and Dutch Farmers’ Struggle

The woes of Dutch farmers extend beyond arable crops to include spring-flowering bulbs, such as tulips, a significant source of revenue for the country. Persistent rainfall has delayed planting and caused stress to these bulbs due to elevated water levels. This may result in a disappointing harvest in the summer, dealing a further blow to the agricultural sector.

Eric Poot, Team Leader at WUR Greenhouse Horticulture and Flower Bulbs, shares the concerns of bulb growers. “They are particularly worried about autumn-flowering plants, especially lilies, many of which remain in the ground, with some bulbs already perishing.”

Seeking Solutions: Technological and Biological Innovations for Dutch Farmers’ Struggle

In the face of these daunting challenges, WUR is actively pursuing solutions to help farmers adapt and thrive in an increasingly unpredictable climate. One promising avenue is the development of lighter farming machinery and fixed tracks on farmlands, allowing farmers to work the land without causing compaction.

Sukkel also suggests the exploration of potato varieties that mature earlier in the season, enabling harvesting before the onset of unfavorable weather conditions. However, such efforts require collaboration with the processing industry and water authorities to ensure a balanced approach to drainage and water retention.

Crop breeding is another area of focus for WUR. Gerard van der Linden, a breeding expert, highlights the increasing frequency of heavy precipitation events. “To address drought, we are developing varieties that use water more efficiently,” he explains. “However, when plants are submerged for days, oxygen levels in the soil deplete, causing damage to the crops. Developing varieties that can go into hibernation, like rice, which lowers its metabolism and ‘holds its breath’ under such conditions, may be a viable solution, though it has its limitations.”

Van der Linden also suggests breeding varieties with thicker skin or resistance to fungi to minimize losses due to rot. However, he emphasizes the need for consumer and market acceptance, as well as the time-consuming nature of variety development, which can take anywhere from three to ten years, or even longer for certain crops like tulips.

The Importance of Soil Structure for Dutch Farmers’ Struggle

Sukkel stresses the importance of maintaining proper soil structure, particularly in fields used for maize and grass, where compaction is a common issue. “A healthy soil structure is crucial for achieving good harvests,” he says. “Farmers must be mindful of this and take steps to prevent compaction, which can have long-term consequences.”

Economic Implications and the Way Forward for Dutch Farmers’ Struggle

While the current situation is challenging, Poot remains cautiously optimistic about the economic prospects of bulb farming. “Production is still high, and a slight drop in yield may even benefit the market,” he says. “However, we cannot afford to have winters this wet year after year.”

The challenges faced by Dutch farmers are a stark reminder of the vulnerability of agriculture to extreme weather events. As the climate continues to change, finding innovative solutions and implementing sustainable farming practices will be essential for ensuring the long-term viability of the agricultural sector and the livelihoods of those who depend on it..

FAQ’s

1. What are the primary factors contributing to the agricultural crisis in the Netherlands?

The extreme weather conditions, characterized by sub-zero temperatures and excessive rainfall, have had a devastating impact on agricultural practices in the Netherlands.

2. How has the weather affected crop production?

The persistent precipitation and low temperatures have resulted in unsalvageable crops, particularly potatoes, which are a staple crop in the region.

3. What are the long-term consequences of soil saturation for agriculture?

The saturated soil structure compromises soil health, hinders water infiltration, and can lead to compaction, affecting crop growth and yields in subsequent years.

4. How are spring-flowering bulbs affected by the weather conditions?

The excessive rainfall has delayed planting and caused stress to spring-flowering bulbs, such as tulips, potentially leading to a disappointing harvest and economic losses.

5. What are some potential solutions to address the challenges faced by Dutch farmers?

WUR is exploring technological innovations like lighter farming machinery and fixed tracks on farmlands, as well as biological innovations through crop breeding, to develop varieties more resilient to extreme weather conditions.

Links to additional Resources:

1. https://www.wur.nl/en/news/farmers-struggle-through-extreme-weather.htm 2. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-64203372 3. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2023/jan/27/dutch-farmers-struggle-through-extreme-weather

Related Wikipedia Articles

Topics: Wageningen University & Research, Tulips (flowers), Soil compaction

Wageningen University & Research
Wageningen University & Research (also known as Wageningen UR; abbreviation: WUR) is a public research university in Wageningen, Netherlands, specializing in life sciences with a focus on agriculture, technical and engineering subjects. It is a globally important center for life sciences and agricultural research. It is located in a region...
Read more: Wageningen University & Research

Tulip
Tulips are spring-blooming perennial herbaceous bulbiferous geophytes in the Tulipa genus. Their flowers are usually large, showy, and brightly coloured, generally red, orange, pink, yellow, or white. They often have a different coloured blotch at the base of the tepals, internally. Because of a degree of variability within the populations...
Read more: Tulip

Soil compaction
In geotechnical engineering, soil compaction is the process in which stress applied to a soil causes densification as air is displaced from the pores between the soil grains. When stress is applied that causes densification due to water (or other liquid) being displaced from between the soil grains, then consolidation,...
Read more: Soil compaction

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