How did the Dutch lead the way in food technology and sustainability?


The Little Netherlands has become a leader in the development of sustainable agricultural technology. It’s not only a major food exporter in Europe, but it’s setting an example for other countries to reduce waste and water use, said Laura Reilly, who reports on the food business for The Washington Post.

Marketplace host Kai Rysdal talks to Reilly about advances in vertical farming, low-carbon farming and livestock farming in the Netherlands. Read her story full of amazing photos here. The following is an edited transcript of their conversation.

Kai Rysdal: Well, this is a food story. Yes. But really, this is the story of technology. It’s the crazy technology of culinary history.

Laura Reilly: A visual smorgasbord of shock and awe, of course.

Rysdal: Tell me how you found this story, because you must know a little about food. I mean, you were a professional chef, you won awards, and you had all that jazz. Here you are now reporting on it. What drew you to this story?

Reilly: I was sitting on the coattails of this amazing Dutch photographer, Kadir van Lohuizen, but he could see that this small European country was the second largest agricultural producer in the world after the United States. A lot of livestock, vegetables and seeds are grown on very little land.

Rysdal: Yeah, we have to be clear here, it’s ag wide, right? That’s livestock, like you said, ornamental vegetables and seeds. That’s all they do. And they’re doing it on relatively postage-sized stamps, not to be insulting.

Reilly: Yes, nyutagainga agata nyutagainga. But what’s interesting is that 24,000 acres—an area twice the size of Manhattan—is under glass, and it’s a greenhouse. If you’ve ever flown through the northern part of the country, not too far from Amsterdam, you’ll feel like something out of the movie Blade Runner, it’s a spectacular sight of sparkling glass. . So a lot of what they’re doing now is what we call internal verticals – there’s a lot of different terms for it. Most of what they do is develop technology that can be exported elsewhere. The best part is that it can bring the world’s arable land closer to where people live.

Rysdal: Yes. Large multinational companies are going there to learn how to do it.

Reilly: Of course. I think there’s a lot of interest right now in terms of technology, a lot of VC money, and food tech to improve our game. But some of the things the Netherlands is doing are older, renewable, or reducing waste and water consumption. So it is very climate friendly and high technology based.

Rysdal: Tell us more about that, will you? Because one of the other things they’re doing is they’re doing all this production without increasing natural gas consumption, without increasing CO2, without reducing fertilizers, and you know that’s going to be key for us to address that. with a warming planet.

Reilly: Of course. So they are huge producers of onions and tomatoes, and can produce a pound of tomatoes that require only half a gallon of water. And the global average is 28 gallons. So, you see the real difference –

Rysdal: Say that again because it’s wild.

Reilly: Yes, it takes 28 gallons of water to produce the average pound of tomatoes worldwide. In the Netherlands, it’s half a gallon, so none of that water is wasted. And the funny thing is, a generation ago they had a terrible reputation. They were just hard bullet balls that no one wanted to eat. So they really changed their reputation. Not only on the vegetable side, but also on the animal side. So chicken and beef and pork are huge exporters, now Europe’s biggest exporter, and a lot of those ribs go to medium chain restaurants in the United States. So you probably – I won’t name names, but you probably ate some of them without realizing it.

Rysdal: Look, you mean you have to use the whole animal, right? Let me ask you: You’ve certainly been up and down California’s Central Valley, right? Saw all the crops there, right?

Reilly: Oh, really. Yes.

Rysdal: It’s okay. So how long do you think it’s going to be given to Big Ag in the United States, how grounded is it — I’m not saying that in a pejorative way, right? You can say a lot of insults about it. But it is true that large-scale industrial agriculture has developed in this country. How long do you think it will last, or will American agriculture catch up with Dutch agriculture?

Reilly: I think this is necessary. We have had some of our high grade indoor vertical trusses fail. There are many reasons to think that we would be more efficient if we amortized our initial costs, some of which are simply because the start-up costs are so high. Also, as LED light bulb technology increases, farming costs less and requires less water.

Rysdal: Yes, some of these photos were bright, and some of the photos in this post were wild. Well, you are a woman who knows her food well. You’re a trained chef, and you’ve been doing it for a very long time. I have to believe you have tasted some of this product –

Reilly: Well, I definitely have. Yes, I think there is a difference between leafy greens and plants. The big controversy is always about nutritional density. Of course, dirt farmers have a bit of a stink eye about whether this stuff is good for you. We need skinless people to redo this experiment, but for leafy greens and herbs and that sort of thing, growing it near where people use it would be a lot smarter than shipping it 3,000 miles.

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