Why this is important to Wisconsin businesses: Wisconsin companies can provide agricultural technology to support the current focus on efficiency, cost savings and sustainability.

Despite its small size, the Netherlands is a major player in international trade, with agriculture being an area of particular strength. The Dutch have succeeded in optimizing agricultural processes to maximize output. This has resulted in the Netherlands overproducing for the domestic market, and the country exports its surplus of $92 billion (14 percent of the Netherlands’ total exports).

The country’s location plays a major role: the Netherlands has historically been heavily active in international trade, and facilities such as the Port of Rotterdam and Amsterdam Airport Schiphol act as not just trading hubs for the Netherlands but as points of entry for the entire European continent.

Looking at the country’s export statistics, direct agricultural products are in the top 10 export categories, while less than 2 percent of the workforce is employed in the sector. This highlights the advances the country has made in the use of technology and sustainable practices in agriculture. The closely related agri-tech industry is also of major importance for the country. A combination of engineering skills and sustainable thinking in agriculture have worked together to put the Netherlands on the map as a major global player in agriculture and related sectors.

Like the Netherlands, Wisconsin counts agriculture among the most important sectors of its economy—especially the dairy industry, with Wisconsin producing 25 percent of total U.S. cheese output as the lead producer among the states. On a related note, another important sector is machinery manufacturing. Many of these machines are used for agricultural purposes or for processing agricultural output. The combination of firms active in these two sectors allow Wisconsin to play a significant role in agricultural topics. This also allows the state to more dominantly use the knowledge existing in these two areas to leverage these advantages internationally.

The field of agriculture is seeing a general trend toward more sustainable, durable and energy-efficient equipment. Factors including climate change, population growth, soil erosion and lower margins are driving farmers to improve efficiency of production. Due to the low appeal of agricultural jobs in countries like the Netherlands, farmers must use machinery to offset the labor input with capital. In addition to helping ease a labor shortage, technological progress and innovation have been essential in helping farmers increase their output. This trend towards more efficiency and less use of manual labor will only intensify in the coming years, giving countries such as the Netherlands a competitive advantage globally since they are already well versed in such technologies and practices. This provides an opportunity for Wisconsin manufacturers, both to meet demand for new technologies in Dutch agriculture and to serve the global market seeking to catch up with technologies already in use by the Dutch.

These same trends can be seen in the agricultural sector more broadly: efficiency, cost savings and sustainability have become top targets for every player in agriculture. This is not limited to farmers, but rather, will also affect their suppliers. What’s more, in Europe, regulatory pressure from the European Union is combining with a political shift in politics toward more environmentally friendly parties to put pressure on politicians to implement environmental conservation legislation. Agriculture is one of the sectors that is most strongly affected by this trend—for example, by requirements for greater fuel efficiency of machines or limited use of fertilizers. In addition, there is a tendency towards greater use of digital tools to make farming more efficient.

For a country like the Netherlands, paying attention to these trends is essential to ensure the country remains competitive in agriculture. Despite the success of the past, there remains potential for innovation to further enhance current competitiveness. Wisconsin companies—especially those that focus on industrial machinery for agriculture—can help with this, while also enlarging their market position and gaining a competitive advantage.