How the Dutch took the lead in food tech and sustainability

The small country of the Netherlands has become a leader in the development of sustainable agricultural technology. Not only is it Europe’s biggest food exporter, it is also a model for other countries to reduce waste and water use, says Laura Reiley, who reports on the food business for the Washington Post.

Host Kai Ryssdal talks to Reiley about Dutch advances in vertical farming and raising crops and animals while reducing carbon dioxide emissions. The following is an edited transcript of their conversation.

Kai Ryssdal: Ok, so this is a food story. Yes. But really, it’s an art story. It’s the crazy art of food storytelling.

Laura Reilly: Indeed, a visual smorgasbord of horror and horror.

Ryssdal: Well, tell me how you got this article, so that we can say in advance, you know a little about food. I mean, you were a great chef, you know, you got awards and all that jazz. And now you’re reporting on it. What got you into this story?

Reilly: Well, I am on the horse of this rich Dutch photographer, Kadir van Lohuizen, but he is looking at how this small European country is the second largest exporter of agricultural products in the world after the United States. ‘We are doing poor animal husbandry, vegetable production and seed production on very little land.

Ryssdal: Yeah, we should be clear here, it’s on the ag gamut, right? They are animals, ornamental vegetables and seeds, as you said. I mean, it’s all they do. And they’re doing it, not to be a prude here, a proud national brand.

Reilly: Yes, you know, half of the land in the country is dedicated to ag. But another interesting thing is that about 24,000 hectares – so the size of Manhattan twice – is under glass, and it has greenhouses. I mean, if you ever fly in the north of the country, not far from Amsterdam, it’s like something out of “Blade Runner,” you know, these are just, like, amazing things of glittering glass. . So a lot of what they do is what we now call standing in the house – there’s a bunch of different terms for that. A lot of what they do is develop technology that can be exported to other areas. And the good thing about that is that it can put farms close to where people live, and in parts of the world where there is no agricultural land.

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Ryssdal: Yes. And top internationals go there to learn how to do it.

Reilly: Indeed. I mean, I think that there’s a lot of interest right now in raising our game in terms of technology, a lot of VC money and food technology right now. But some of what the Netherlands is doing is more old-school, regenerative ag, or, you know, reducing waste and water use. So it is very relevant to the environment, modern technology.

Ryssdal: More on that, right? Because among the other things they do is they do all this production without increasing the use of natural gas, without adding CO2, reducing fertilizer, using all these materials you know, it will be important as we trying to solve. with global warming.

Reilly: Of course. So they are great producers of onions and tomatoes, and they can produce a pound of tomatoes that only need half a gallon of water. And the average in the world is 28 gallons. So, you see the real difference –

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Ryssdal: Say that again, because this is wild.

Reilly: Yes, so on average in the world there are 28 gallons of water to produce a pound of tomatoes. In the Netherlands, it is half a gallon, so none of the water is wasted. And the strange thing is, you know, centuries ago, they had a bad reputation. These are just bullet balls that no one wants to eat. And so they really kind of changed their name. And not only on the vegetable side, but also on animal ag. So, chicken, pork, beef, they are the main exporters, now they are the main exporters in Europe, many of the ribs go to the middle class restaurants in America. So for sure – I won’t name names, but you’ve probably eaten some of them without realizing it.

Ryssdal: Look, I mean, you have to use the whole animal, right? Let me ask you this: You must have driven up and down the California Central Valley, right? And for all the farming there, eh?

Reilly: Oh, absolutely. Yes.

Ryssdal: Well. So, how long do you expect it to be given to Big Ag in America and how grounded is it — and I said that on purpose, right? There are many things you can say about it. But it is true that we have large industrial production in this country. How long do you think it will be, or will it ever be for American agriculture to be even close to what Holland agriculture is, do you think?

Reilly: I think it is necessary. We’ve had a lot of failures of some of the great indoor plants. And some of it is just because the starting price is very prohibitive, but once we get the types of, you know, increase these initial prices, there are many reasons to think that it will be more efficient. Also as LED bulb technology improves, it will be less expensive to grow and will probably require less water.

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Ryssdal: Yes, the lighting of some of these shots, some of the photos in this article are wild. Well done, you are a woman who knows how to eat. You are a professional chef, you have been doing this for a long time. I have to believe you’ve tasted some of the ingredients in it –

Reilly: Well, I certainly have. Yes, I think that for the leaves and for the leaves, I tasted the difference. The main type of controversy has always been about nutrition. Dirt farmers really have a bad eye about whether this stuff is good for you. We need some people who don’t have skin in the game to do some more of this testing, but certainly for greens and herbs and things like that, growing it right where people eat it is smarter than shipping it 3,000 miles.

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