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'Dating site' eases crisis for farmers

China Daily | Updated: 2017-08-14 08:46

Innovative scheme aims to soften exodus from country to cities

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.

'Dating site' eases crisis for farmers

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 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.

Agence France-presse

(China Daily 08/14/2017 page10)

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