Soybean production creeping up in The Netherlands

Jolanda Raadjmakers is one of 90 producers growing soybeans in The Netherlands. Photo: Owen Roberts

The Netherlands, with its moderate climate, may seem like an odd place to grow heat-loving soybeans.

But just a few decades ago, that’s what people said about Ontario, too – and soybeans have become the province’s major field crop, expected to top three million acres this year.

That kind of acreage is not in the cards for The Netherlands. But a group of about 90 producers who think soybeans have potential in rotation with potatoes are growing 475 hectares of conventional, non-GMO varieties this season.

More than three-quarters of the production is going to a company called Alpro for soy-based beverages and plant-based food. The rest goes for livestock feed.

Behind it all is the co-op Royal Agrifirm. The company started promoting soybeans back in 2013, with just nine growers and 30 hectares of land. Now it offers four different varieties to farmers, expanding its catalogue from soybeans that were early maturing to those now that are high yielding, up to 4,400 kg per hectare. Farmers in three more regions are planning to grow soybeans next year.

“Farmers say the crop is stronger than summer wheat or other crops,” says soybean project manager Henk Vermeer of Agrifirm. “They’re very curious about it. Most of them have never seen it, so we teach them about it. I believe soy has the potential to be of solid value in Dutch cultivation plans.”
Soybeans are lucrative, selling for about 500 Euro per ton. But to no one’s surprise, they’re experiencing some growing pains.

For example, they’re affected by sclerotinia in areas where potato production is intense. Some growers experienced lodging from rain, following a drought there. Even within fields, there were large differences in the colour and condition of the beans.

But producers are being patient. Soybeans fix their own nitrogen, which is a huge plus in a country like The Netherlands where the ecological footprint of any crop is closely watched and where nitrogen use is a sensitive topic.

Plus, the fact the Dutch soybeans are non-GMO strikes a chord with consumers. And getting homegrown soy lessens their dependence on imports.

On a recent media tour, Agrifirm accompanied agricultural journalists to a field that despite a significant drought in Europe, appeared healthy, productive, and enjoying unusually high temperatures there.

 

Owen Roberts

Owen Roberts directs research communications and teaches at the University of Guelph, and is president of the International Federation of Agricultural Journalists. You can find him on Twitter as @theurbancowboy

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