Farmland in Alaska.
By Sietze Vermeulen
Netherlands Consulate General in San Francisco
Ben and Suus Vanderweele moved from the Netherlands to Alaska in the 1960s, and set up a farm in the Matanuska-Susitna Valley. If you’ve ever eaten an Alaskan-grown potato, chances are it came from the 200-acre Vanderweele Farm, which sells to major supermarkets throughout the state.
Fifty years later, Alaska and the Netherlands are building a new partnership. Today, Gerbert Kunst, the Consul General of the Netherlands in San Francisco, will speak at the International Business Conference & Trade Show in Anchorage.
“Trade between Alaska and the Netherlands is limited,” said Consul General Kunst. “Alaska exports $130 million to the Netherlands, and 99 percent of that is seafood. Alaska also imports $5.5 million from the Netherlands, 95 percent of which is computers and other electrical equipment. I see major opportunities to do business together.”
Ben and Suus Vanderweele moved to Alaska because the Netherlands didn’t have enough land for new farmers, a problem that does not exist in Alaska. But farmers in Alaska face other challenges, such as the arctic climate and distance.
Alaska imports 95% of its store-bought food, and at tremendous cost. It takes more than a week for fresh produce to reach some outlying villages in Alaska. The state also has some of the highest rates of food insecurity in the nation.
The Netherlands is only twice the size of New Jersey, and fits 41 times in Alaska. At the same time, it is the second largest exporter of agricultural products, behind only the United States.
The Dutch have found innovative solutions to grow crops efficiently, as reported on in last months’ National Geographic. We don’t need a lot of water, space, or even the sun. Dutch farmers are experts in sustainable food production by controlling the growing environment.
Take our greenhouses as an example. In the Westland-area, more than 25 square miles is covered in high-tech greenhouses with innovative energy-efficient and adaptable systems that allow large-scale horticulture with less impact on the environment.
That’s high results with low impact. Another example is tomatoes. Worldwide, farmers need about 8 gallons of water to grow tomatoes. We found a way to do it with just 1 gallon. Some greenhouses even produce energy.
Just like Alaska, the Netherlands produces and exports energy. As a country that’s famous for windmills, it’s not a big surprise that we have embraced windmill farms. By 2050, we want to be nearly emission free.
The Netherlands is experimenting with energy from waves, algae and biomass. To secure a resilient energy grid, we’re looking into smart- and micro-grids, which is more common in Alaska. We’re also looking into geothermal energy, energy from the mixing of fresh and salt water, and tidal energy, methods Alaska is also interested in. The Dutch are initiating partnerships to share experiences and exchange expertise.
But more traditionally, we are an exporter of natural gas and a source of advanced gas technology. We’re also Europe’s leading gas broker and a strategic gas hub. That’s why we have some leading companies and facilities in the field of soil research and offshore drilling. Fugro, for instance, has an office in Alaska.
The challenges that climate change is bringing to many places around the US have been troubling the Netherlands for centuries. The Dutch have found solutions to protect us against sea-level rise and storms that become bigger every year.
Sea-level rise and climate change are also causing problems in Alaska. Storms become bigger and cause more damage. Dutch research institute Deltares works together with the United States Geological Survey on Alaska shore research. Together, they created models to map the effects of climate change on the Arctic Coast. It’s an example of how the Netherlands and Alaska work together.
Netherlands is also an observer in the Arctic Council. Last May, the Netherlands Consul General in San Francisco was present at the Arctic Council Ministerial meeting in Fairbanks, Alaska. Together we have been conducting scientific research in the polar regions for decades. Dutch polar research has an excellent international reputation, and ranks number one in the world in terms of citations.
During this trip to Alaska, Gerbert Kunst will not only speak at the Business Conference, but also speak with the mayors of Juneau and Anchorage.
“Ben and Suus Vanderweele saw the variety of opportunities in Alaska a long time ago,” said Consul General Kunst. “The business between the Netherlands and Alaska might be small, the potential partnership is enormous. And I’m looking forward to building a real partnership with Alaska”
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