Widening gap between small and large farms

13/08/2001 10:00

There are some 97,000 agricultural holdings in the Netherlands today. The agricultural output by the one hundred largest farms just about equals that of the 24,000 smallest. The smallest holdings are no longer able to sustain themselves by their agricultural activities alone. These smallholders farm more as a hobby, with only a few cows, for example, or a few hectares of land.

Big, bigger, biggest

Large farms are becoming even larger. The numbers of large holdings cultivating crops under glass and large intensive cattle farms in particular are rising strongly. Today, horticultural holdings with more than 7 hectares of glasshouses and pig farms with more than 6,000 pigs are no longer unusual. There are also dozens of dairy farms with more than 200 milk cows and a similar number of arable farmers with more than 300 hectares of crops. The largest agricultural and horticultural holdings are about three times as big, but these are the exceptions.

Average economic size in dsu’s

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Dichotomy

The differences between large and small farms are widening, leading to a dichotomy in Dutch agriculture. Small farms are increasingly struggling to survive while large holdings account for an increasing part of agricultural production. The 50% smallest agricultural holdings account for only one tenth of total Dutch agricultural production, while the 25% largest farms generate nearly two-thirds of the total.

Three-quarters of farmers who stop farming are smallholders. Every day in the Netherlands some eight smallholders and three large scale farmers cease their farming activities.

Larger farms are not by definition better off. In some years and in certain branches of farming, it is difficult for farmers to keep their heads above water. Relatively many pig farmers and fruit growers, for example, have stepped out of agriculture in recent years. The Dutch agricultural economy depends strongly on the larger holdings. The 50% largest farms account for by far most (90%) of agricultural production, and also for the substantial surplus on the balance of trade.

Share in agricultural production (in dsu)

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Cor Pierik