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    DUTCH DELIGHTS: Around the table from left, Charlie Gardner, Ben Lawson, David Lutze, Mark Gaulke, Amy Cook, Anna Johansson, Tim Inkster, Felicity Pritchard, Lindsay Knight, Russel Barber, Peter Crafter, David Jochinke and Karl Schmidt enjoy a traditional Dutch meal at Ceus Wolthuis’ local pub, run entirely by volunteers.

AgLife: A valuable and successful tour for Wallup group

A Wimmera-based farming group says Australian farmers need strong advocacy to preserve the industry, while adopting efficient and sustainable practices to protect their own futures. 

Wallup Ag Group members have travelled to the Netherlands to visit farms, farmers and industry to learn how Dutch farmers have adapted to restrictions on fertiliser use and the banning of chemicals; spray drift minimisation, compliance and sprayer set-up amid strict laws; how farmers are using robotics and heat technology to overcome weed issues as they farm without chemicals; and green farming opportunities such as electric tractors and end-of-life wind farms. 

Member Tim Inkster said Australian farmers could learn much from their Dutch counterparts, who were constantly evolving to remain in agriculture and remain profitable. 

He said connections through member Ceus Wolthuis, who moved to the Wimmera from the Netherlands in the 1990s, had ensured a valuable and successful tour. 

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Site visits included farms and co-operatives, an historic pumphouse, biogas plant, machinery and other agricultural dealerships and a factory, along with tourism stops. 

“The Netherlands’ farmers are operating within one of the most restrictive environments in the world,” Mr Inkster said.  

“Chemical and fertiliser use is highly regulated and monitored and the public image of farmers is very negative. The opportunities to expand are limited by land availability, so farmers are looking at alternative systems and efficiency gains to remain profitable.

“As we farm in a global system and export into the European Union, we may be faced with similar restrictions in order to continue to access these markets, already demonstrated with canola.” 

Mr Inkster said the tour found Dutch farmers were highly regulated, restricted and compliant, and required to follow European Union rules, overlayed with the government’s rules. 

With farmland located below sea level, farmers constantly remove water from paddocks out to sea, via a canal system. This water is also used for drinking. 

Mr Inkster said many farmers were proactive in growing as much produce as they could, while also funding new sources of income and compliance with the government. 

Farmers experience longer dry periods followed by heavy rain. 

Land costs from 3000 to 5000 euros a lease and between 100,000 and 150,000 euros a hectare to buy – which Mr Inkster said was negatively impacting relationships within families and among neighbours. 

He said the country was ‘immaculate’ and not a metre of land was wasted – typified by many farm houses being integrated into a farm shed as one building. 

Mr Inkster said the Dutch government was also compulsorily acquiring land to return to nature – which could make farms ‘unviable overnight’. 

He said Australian farmers needed to advocate for, and demonstrate, best practice management while mitigating future change. 

He said value-adding products, diversifying operations or engaging with renewable energy investment might be beneficial and profitable when ‘done right’. 

“The future of farming in Australia appears to be a double-edged sword,” he said.

“We need strong advocacy from our industry to the government and trading partners to preserve our way of farming so we are not restricted in what we grow nor buried under regulations. 

“The general public needs to be brought along with us at every step. 

“A subsidy system should be avoided at all costs so we don’t get locked into a reactionary system of compliance and management and lose ownership of our products.

“The other side is that we shouldn’t bury our heads in the sand and not prepare for the challenges of a more sustainable-expectant world. 

“We cannot give reason to restrict us through poor management or selfish decisions that affect the entire industry.” 

Wallup Ag Group was founded in the early 1990s and has long sought to undertake an overseas study tour. 

Members presented to their peers unable to attend the tour, and Longerenong College students, about what they had learned. 

The Grains Research and Development Corporation co-founded the tour. 

The entire November 29, 2023 edition of The Weekly Advertiser is available online. READ IT HERE!

The entire November 29, 2023 edition of AgLife is available online. READ IT HERE!