Potatoes, sugar beets, onions and grain. Arable farmer Ron Bastiaanse grows various crops on his plot in Dordrecht. Until now he used the grain as a change crop. To maintain good soil and prevent depletion, farmers have to plant a different crop each year. Wheat is a so-called dormant crop that restores the soil.
It yielded little financially for him, roughly 250 euros per ton until March 2022. After that, the price exploded on the world market. A lot of grain came from Ukraine, but exports have come to a standstill due to the war. The grain price rose to 385 euros per tonne in May.
He is now considering sowing more grain. “It’s a bit of a gamble for me as a farmer. To see what the world trade is doing and what the situation in Ukraine will affect the cultivation there,” he says.
“Due to the high grain price, more farmers are considering growing grain,” says Jurriaan Visser, grain manager of agricultural cooperative CZAV. “You can sow grain once a year. In the autumn, so the farmers will have to make a choice this summer.”
CZAV expects that the acreage, the surface area of grain in the Netherlands, will increase by 5 to 10 percent grain. “It also depends on the demand and what happens to the price of other crops. What is the most profitable? If many farmers switch, there will be fewer sugar beets and potatoes on the market and those prices will also rise.”
For Bastiaanse, grain was also an aid crop to keep his land well. “I think I’m going to grow less potatoes, onions or sugar beets now,” he says. The yield of grain has increased, but that cultivation also entails higher costs. “It’s not that we get richer as farmers.”
No one knows how long the war in Ukraine will last. Even without that war, however, the grain price will remain relatively high, Visser expects. “Prices were already rising before the war. Stocks are low worldwide, in India for example due to the extreme weather. In France it is dry and in America parts are extremely dry and parts extremely wet.”
Experimenting with baking bread
Making tasty bread from Dutch grain is still a challenge, says baker Tom van Otterloo from Arnhem. He has been working with Dutch grain for fifteen years. At the large mills you will receive an A4 sheet that states how to process the wheat. With the smaller suppliers, you as a baker have to find that out yourself.
“More or less water, more kneading or not. It depends on the hours of sunshine, the amount of rain. You have to test bake. Which bread is the tastiest? Each harvest has a different quality.”
More homegrown grain
Van Otterloo increasingly uses Dutch grain. “When we started in 2008 it was about 1 bag of 20 kilos in 4 weeks, now it is 160 to 180 kilos per week. And then we also use another 40 kilos of home-grown rye.”
Switching completely to Dutch grain is not possible. “We use 30,000 kilos of grain every four weeks from France. We have too little land in the Netherlands to be able to eat and live on.”
Less grain sown in Ukraine
Even if the war ends tomorrow, we will still suffer from the consequences, experts think. Ukrainian farmers have almost completed sowing this spring. But the area sown with grains, such as wheat, is more than a fifth smaller than last year, reports the Ukrainian Ministry of Agriculture.
The ministry did not give any forecast for this year’s grain harvest. Much of the grain remains in the country itself. And exports have fallen sharply as the Russian military blocks Ukrainian ports on the Black Sea.
Last week, Germany accused the Russians of using hunger as a weapon in the fight against Ukraine. By blocking ports and destroying silos and railways in the Eastern European country, the Russian army is fueling a global food crisis, Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said.
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN also fears that millions of people will go hungry if Russia continues to block Ukrainian grain.