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Weather in the Netherlands made the potato harvest very difficult

Netherlands: climate made the harvest very difficult

Wageningen UR

In the Netherlands, the weather affected potato crops in such a way that fields that have not yet been harvested are considered lost. The situation exacerbates the significant shortage of seed that is affecting Europe.

Sub-zero temperatures have a detrimental effect on crops that could not be harvested due to the extreme precipitation in recent months.

Wijnand Sukkel, a researcher in sustainable agriculture at Wageningen University (WUR):


"The farmers are dealing with increasingly extreme weather. WUR is seeking solutions in lighter agricultural machinery and crop varieties that are more resistant to extreme weather."

Climate change causes droughts, extreme heat, extreme summer rainfall, and wetter winters.

The soil in several locations is saturated to the point where it cannot support the weight of harvesting machinery, nor can it be prepared for planting.

It is estimated that between five and ten percent of the potato, carrot, and sugar beet crops are still in the ground. Grain farmers have been unable to plant winter grains.

Wijnand Sukkel:


"Last year's wet spring delayed the planting of potatoes and sugar beets, and when it came time for harvest, the soil was, once again, soaked."

"The heavy harvesters get stuck in the mud. This, along with the amount of water in the soil, negatively affects soil structure."

"Air is expelled from the soil, endangering crops. Due to compaction, water can no longer infiltrate the soil, which will only worsen the problem in the coming years."

Farmers and growers have options if the future remains so wet. Wijnand Sukkel is studying a fixed rail system at the Farm of the Future and the use of lighter machinery with tracks. This will allow farmers to work the land without compacting it.

Wijnand Sukkel:


"Farmers can also consider planting a potato variety that is ready for harvest earlier in the season."

"However, the processing industry, which produces french fries, chips, and starch, must cooperate."

"In addition, water authorities play a role in finding the right balance between draining and retaining enough water in the area."

WUR is also seeking solutions in crop breeding. Gerard van der Linden, a breeding expert, explains that periods of heavy rainfall are occurring more frequently.

Wijnand Sukkel:


"To address drought, we are developing varieties that are more water-efficient."

"However, having plants submerged for days is a completely different problem. Oxygen levels in the soil are depleted, and crops are damaged."

"Breeding varieties that go into hibernation may be an option. Rice is an example of this type of crop. This plant reduces its metabolism when water levels rise."

"The plant no longer requires oxygen and 'holds its breath,' so to speak. However, a plant can only maintain this for a limited time."

Gerard van der Linden says that if rot affects bulbs or tubers, more resistant varieties can be bred against fungi or with thicker skin. 

Farmers must be able to sell their crops. Therefore, consumers and traders must agree. And developing or modifying varieties takes time. Eric Poot:


"Depending on the crop, it can take between three and ten years. Breeding tulips takes more than twenty years."

Wijnand Sukkel:


"Sukkel thinks that the situation in the agricultural sector will be manageable as long as farmers have the right soil structure."

"Compaction often occurs in soil used for corn and grass. This is a problem that is often underestimated, while proper soil structure is important for these crops as well to achieve a good harvest."

Eric Poot adds:


"I am currently not very concerned about the economic potential of bulb breeding; production is high, and even a slight decrease could benefit the market. But winters should not remain so wet year after year."

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