Less protein crop farming in the Netherlands

© Hollandse Hoogte / Herman Engbers
Cultivation of protein crops such as alfalfa, field beans and soybeans has decreased this year. The agricultural area has declined by 3 percent relative to one year previously. This is primarily due to less soy cultivation. As of 2020, soy cultivation covers 132 hectares, down from 476 hectares in 2019 and representing a decrease of 73 percent. This is evident from the agricultural census conducted by Statistics Netherlands (CBS). Under the Green Deal policy, Dutch farmers need to cultivate 10 thousand hectares of soy in order to meet central government’s target for soy cultivation.

A total of 9.1 thousand hectares are dedicated to the cultivation of protein crops in the Netherlands. These crops are grown for human consumption, as animal feed or as green manure. They are currently receiving a great deal of attention because of the role they fulfil in the food transition (more plant-based proteins in diets) and in circular agriculture (home-grown protein for concentrates).

In the Netherlands, soybeans and lupins are cultivated mainly for human consumption, for example as raw material for meat substitutes. Field beans and field peas are cultivated to be used as forage crops.

Cultivation area of protein-rich arable crops
JaartalAlfalfa (ha)Field beans (ha)Field peas (ha)Soybeans (ha)Sweet lupins (ha)
*Provisional figures

Protein crop area predominantly alfalfa

Crops such as alfalfa, soybeans, (sweet) lupins, field beans and field peas take up approximately 0.5 percent of the Netherlands’ total agricultural area. A particularly large area is dedicated to alfalfa. In 2020, its cultivation area covers 7.5 thousand hectares, i.e. 1 percent less than in the previous year. Eleven percent of the area for alfalfa is cultivated organically.

Alfalfa is grown at 1,165 farms this year, 55 more than in the previous year (+5 percent). Alfalfa is used as forage and as green manure.

More cultivation of field beans and lupins

The area for field beans and lupins did increase in size. In 2020, acreage dedicated to field beans has grown by 143 to 1,092 hectares, i.e. an increase of 15 percent. The area used for sweet lupins has expanded from 58 hectares in 2019 to 100 hectares this year (+72 percent). Half of this area is cultivated organically.

Soybean area in EU member states declining

A decrease in soybean cultivation is seen not only in the Netherlands, but also across the entire European Union. In 2019, acreage dedicated to soybeans in the EU covered 896 thousand hectares, 6.2 percent less than one year previously. This is the second consecutive year of decline. Italy and Romania in particular have shown large reductions, by 19 and 14 percent respectively.

The EU aims to reduce its dependence on soy imports by boosting cultivation within the Union, for instance. Soy is currently mainly cultivated in Italy, France and Romania with acreages of 273, 164 and 145 thousand hectares respectively.

Last year, the largest cultivation areas for soybeans were found in Brazil (35 million ha), the United States (31 million ha) and Argentina (18 million ha).

Soybean cultivation area, EU-28
JaartalAcreage (1,000 ha)
Source: Eurostat