A shared vision and clear technology roadmap were two of the notable features of the Dutch approach to agri-tech that Becky Dodds, Agri-TechE membership and events manager, observed on a recent fact-finding trip to Wageningen in the Netherlands.
As one of the most high-tech-enabled farming regions in the world, I was keen to join a UK delegation to the Netherlands, one of our closest neighbours in Europe.
The jam-packed agenda – featuring everything from meetings with policy makers, understanding cutting edge research, and connecting with world-leading breeders and technology – made for a wealth of learning and relationship building opportunities on behalf of our network.
With low-lying land that was once underwater, much of what I saw looked just like home in the Fens! However, there were some notable differences – not particularly in the way the land was being farmed, but in the approach to tackling the challenges we face globally in agriculture.
The biggest difference to me is the way in which policy is structured to allow everyone to work towards key sustainability goals whilst allowing individuals to focus on their own area of expertise.
From the very top down, this centralised approach to choosing priorities for Netherlands plc enables alignment between different types of organisations with different agendas – frequently connecting individual priorities with those of sustainable development goals. This ethos strengthens the Netherlands as a global contributor to achieving these important goals.
This also allows for much more open and willingness to collaborate – the clear brief allows for cross sector applications, and reduces the conflict between different wants from different entities.
There’s also a general feeling of working towards the greater good of the planet whilst understanding that everyone has some kind of commercial or financial driver to be facilitated.
Clear technology roadmap
Often when a global vision is articulated it can feel like lip service, but here it seemed as though everyone truly understood the pressures we are facing and have already started taking genuine steps to tackle them.
A strong lead from government, in connection with the top sectors (there is a board of commercial stakeholders) provides a clear, relevant direction for the next 4 years or so. This enables academics at Wageningen and other institutes to prepare future scoping on what looks to be the priority areas for the next 7-8 years, this means Dutch programmes are proactive rather than reactive.
Keen to collaborate despite Brexit
Whilst Brexit came up in almost every conversation as a potential blocker, as well as the uncertainty created by rules still not being defined, it’s clear that the Dutch consider the UK an important partner and collaborator.
Indeed, our meeting with the Ministries reinforced to international organisations that they are welcome to participate in funding calls that would benefit both countries – who else knew that academics from the UK were top when it comes to co-authoring papers with Wageningen?
Perhaps, much like ourselves, the Dutch know they are not big enough to be able to compete internationally without some collaboration – both internally and externally. Certainly, as many of the challenges we face, affect the whole planet – to me it is obvious that progress could be made quicker, together.
There is much we can collaborate on with our friends across the North Sea – and one thing you’ll be sure of, is a very warm welcome.