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One can understand the United States of America, straddling a continent from Pacific to Atlantic Ocean, being the world’s biggest agricultural exporter, but how does the Netherlands (also called Holland), a country 273 times smaller than the USA, come in at position 2?


  1. The land given to agriculture has to prove itself. Holland is densely populated (1,300 inhabitants per square mile). This means that land for agriculture really has to prove itself!
  2. It supplements its (perfect) geography with greenhouses. This means controlled growing conditions with enormous savings of water (as much as 90% in some cases) and nearly no chemical pesticides needed.
  3. The country invests in its agricultural economy and in the future workforce with training. Fully funded scholarships are offered to prospective students. Institutions like Wageningen University are world famous in agricultural circles and have an international leaning. Students from across the globe come here to study. In fact, 40% of students and research staff are not Dutch.
  4. Relevant research: The University is also 25% funded by the private sector which keeps research outputs relevant.
  5. Effective extension services: the Agricultural Council Offices bridges the gap between the university and the farmer.
  6. The Dutch are innovators of agricultural technology (AgriTech) e.g. robots, drones, automated fruit separators and processors. The Netherlands maintains and exports its agri knowledge.
  7. Infrastructure facilitates exports: the ports of Amsterdam and Rotterdam, airports like Schiphol and Rotterdam, and its railway and roads system all facilitate the fast movement of goods.
  8. It is close to its major markets: Holland’s location – centre of Europe – is close to one of the richest areas of the world. Neighbours like Germany, Belgium and France are her top markets.

How would these points translate to South Africa? Already agriculture maintains a healthy trade surplus (if we rule out inputs like machinery, fuel and fertiliser), thanks to sectors like citrus, table grapes, the other fruit sectors, macadamia nuts, wine and wool. But how can we do better?

Readers will undoubtedly be able to add to this, but the obvious takeaway is to invest in our future agricultural workforce, the country’s extension services and its infrastructure!


Relevant pages on Agribook.Digital include Exporting, Hydroponics and uncover growing, Agricultural education and training and Digital agriculture.



  1. ThingExplainer. 2018, December 10. “How The Netherlands Became The World’s Second Largest Agricultural Exporter”. Available at
  2. VisualPolitik EN. 2018, June 27. “Why The NETHERLANDS is the World’s AGRICULTURE leader?” Available at

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