‘Dat­ing site’ eases cri­sis for farm­ers

In­no­va­tive scheme aims to soften ex­o­dus from coun­try to cities

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - WORLD -

NIEUWVEEN, Nether­lands — Stand­ing in his rub­ber boots in his fields sur­rounded by his beloved Red Hol­stein cows, Dutch farmer Ger­ard Hartveld has an air of res­ig­na­tion as he con­tem­plates the fu­ture.

Hartveld says he is a dairy farmer in “his heart” and soul. Yet, his heart is heavy know­ing that, like many who work the land to­day in The Nether­lands, he has no one to in­herit his fam­ily farm.

The fig­ures are stag­ger­ing. Some 60 per­cent of those aged over 55 have no one to whom they can be­queath their land, ac­cord­ing to the Dutch cen­tral sta­tis­tics of­fice.

That means some 15,000 farms could dis­ap­pear in the next decade, with more than eight out of 10 sheep farm­ers, who are reach­ing re­tire­ment, hav­ing no suc­ces­sors.

Al­though pig and cow farm­ers are far­ing slightly bet­ter, most fam­ily farms have wit­nessed an ex­o­dus of the younger gen­er­a­tion as they desert the fields and barns in their droves lured by the prom­ise of for­tunes to be made in the city.

Hartveld’s farm in cen­tral Nieuwveen has been in his fam­ily for more than a cen­tury — since 1913. He knows every inch of the land as well as his cows, in­clud­ing the doyens of the 20-strong dairy herd, Mi­randa and Greta.

But with no chil­dren, the time will come “in 15 years or so, not be­fore”, when this re­served 52-year-old man of few words will see the land and his herd “pass out of the fam­ily” to be taken over by strangers.

This is where an in­no­va­tive Dutch scheme seeks to step in, aim­ing to res­cue such farms which make up an in­te­gral part of the land­scape in the coun­try.

Thomas Le­grand is a 27-year-old French­man, who, with his Dutch girl­friend, is look­ing for a farm to run. But with no con­tacts in the farm­ing world, the cou­ple are turn­ing to an on­line ser­vice called “Farmer Seeks Farmer”.

“It’s like a dat­ing site,” said Le­grand, who “dreams of

To­day, most of those look­ing to take over a farm are self-em­ployed be­tween the ages of 20 and 40.”

pig farmer and cre­ator of the on­line scheme

tak­ing over a small sheep farm on a polder”.

Backed by the Young Farm­ers’ As­so­ci­a­tion, pig farmer San­der Thus has been work­ing with the on­line scheme putting those close to re­tire­ment in con­tact with young wouldbe farm­ers seek­ing their own patch of agri­cul­tural land.

Like an in­ter­net dat­ing web­site, users reg­is­ter on the site and wait for their search to throw up a match.

“To­day, most of those look­ing to take over a farm are self-em­ployed be­tween the ages of 20 and 40, who don’t come from the farm­ing world but have this de­sire to roll their sleeves up,” said Thus.

Since the scheme was launched in 2011, sev­eral dozen farms have moved out­side of the orig­i­nal fam­ily own­ers to be taken over by a new gen­er­a­tion of farm­ers.

And Thus hopes the num­bers will grow, with 135 peo­ple search­ing for land reg­is­tered on the site, and some 35 ex­ist­ing farm­ers look­ing for new blood to farm their lands.

For dairy farmer Hartveld, how­ever, he says with a mix­ture of pride and sor­row that when the time comes he won’t need the ser­vices of “Farmer Seeks Farmer”.

There are sev­eral peo­ple in­ter­ested in tak­ing over his farm — and pre­serv­ing a small piece of Dutch his­tory.

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