By Floris van der Laan
Consulate General of the Netherlands in San Francisco

Buying lunch in San Francisco can feel as if you’ve arrived in the future.

While riding the elevator down from the office, you place an order through your mobile app, and it’s ready for you to pick up. Or you buy lunch in a store with no cashiers. Sensors automatically register what you put in your bag, charge your mobile app, and you walk out without grabbing your wallet.

Having lunch through modern technology in Silicon Valley seems to stand in striking contrast with the origins of your food: the Central Valley of California, a mere 60 miles away from San Francisco.

In the “heart of agriculture,” almond fields stretch over the California countryside and diesel tractors plow the fields. But you’d be surprised how much Silicon Valley and the Central Valley are connected besides the food that is sold on the farmer markets of San Francisco.

To see how technology and agriculture intertwine, we have to go to the Dutch countryside, 5,500 miles away. When cycling along Dutch fields, you see how smart greenhouse complexes stretch over the Dutch countryside. They resemble colossal castles of glass, which often produce energy rather than consume it.

These greenhouses are surrounded by perfectly ordered patchworks of agricultural fields, where precision agriculture is used to create the most sustainable and nutritious products. This might sound like the traditional countryside. With AgTech (“agricultural technology”), however, the Netherlands is a frontrunner with smart solutions for efficient and sustainable production.

This expertise has been exported to California, where the innovation and technology of Silicon Valley provide a welcome environment to build new partnerships.

“Where the Netherlands has always been an early adopter of automation in agriculture, California has just started to look into agricultural automation,” said Ronald Welten, owner of Welten Farms LLC in Gilroy, California. “With regards to rules and regulations, agriculture in California is dealing with the same issues as the Netherlands: groundwater pollution, nitrogen emissions, and restrictions on irrigation water.”

Nevertheless, Welten also said expertise and smart solutions can be exported to California. “There are plenty of opportunities in agricultural automation, for example in planting robots and harvesting robots. And also in water-saving techniques,” he said.

In 2018, the Netherlands exported €90.3 billion in agricultural produce. It makes the Netherlands the second largest exporter of agricultural products in the world, just behind the United States. One-fifth of the Dutch export is created by agricultural products, with almost €2.5 billion being exported to the US. Our exports cover a wide range of livestock and plant-cultivation sectors, but also includes AgTech.

“On the hand of AgTech, the Netherlands is shaping the future of agriculture and horticulture,” said Consul General Gerbert Kunst. “Although the United states has 270 times the Dutch landmass, the Netherlands has developed itself in becoming an agricultural giant. The Dutch are experts on sustainable food production and efficient farming, while maintaining high-quality crops with amazing flavors. The Netherlands is recognized for its AgTech, and we find it of critical importance to continue our collaboration with California to develop innovative agricultural solutions.”

Agricultural innovation-hub

California’s Central Valley has shown interest in Dutch AgTech innovations that make it possible to grow crops year round in a controlled environment.

In the near future, the world will have to feed 10 billion people, making it important to produce twice as much food as today using half as many resources. In the Dutch smart greenhouses, for example, 1 kilogram of tomatoes can be produced with only 4 liters of water. This is a magnificent decrease from the global average, which is more than 50 liters per kilo of tomatoes. Incorporating these technologies in Central Valley will bolster its agricultural position, as well as result in significant opportunities for Dutch businesses.

“It is clear that Silicon Valley can contribute to a more efficient and sustainable Central Valley, but the reality is that there is still much potential,” said Consul General Kunst. “With our knowledge of AgTech, the Netherlands tries to bridge these two economic powerhouses of global innovation and agriculture. The Netherlands is home to one of the leading research institutes for food and agricultural innovation, Wageningen University and Research Center. Cooperating with UC Davis, these academic institutions are paving the way toward technological readiness.”

Besides sharing and exchanging knowledge, the Netherlands also sells high-tech and efficient machinery for farmers and growers in California.

Visit to the Central Valley

To share the Dutch vision on circular agriculture and promote agricultural entrepreneurship from the Netherlands, a delegation from the Ministry of Agriculture, Nature, and Food Quality will visit California from November 6-8. During the visit, the delegation will focus primarily on the Dutch vision on circular agriculture, climate change, and the collaboration between the Netherlands and California on advancing AgTech.

“The ongoing collaboration that exists between the Netherlands and California speaks to our innovative spirit and shared understanding of the importance of this work,” said Secretary Karen Ross of the Department of Food and Agriculture. “In connecting from different parts of the world, we share not only what we have learned, but collectively aim for global solutions to address climate change and ensure resiliency and agricultural sustainability worldwide.”

With the growing demand for food on a global scale, as well as our responsibility for the environment around us, the Netherlands and California are committed to supporting agricultural innovation.

This agricultural mission from the Netherlands to California is therefore an important step in building a robust and long-term collaboration that will strengthen Dutch-California agricultural innovation.

In cooperation with California, we will create a technologically ready agricultural environment, using both our innovative spirits to shift toward a circular agriculture.

That brings us back to the lunch you’re having today. Did you ever think your lunch is the result of Dutch and California innovation?