Flanders boasts agricultural success, but farmers voice discontent
Flanders has fewer and fewer agricultural and horticultural enterprises, and farmer satisfaction is also declining. Yet the region is among the best in Europe when it comes to production value, according to the Flemish government's newest Agriculture Report. Amid ongoing protests across the country, dozens of disgruntled farmers turned up at the presentation of the report on Monday to air their grievances.
According to the latest figures presented by Flemish minister of Agriculture Jo Brouns, the number of agricultural and horticultural farms has continued to decline. In 2022, Flanders had 22,449 farms - almost 11 per cent less than in 2012, or about 1 per cent less every year. Twelve years ago, there were more than 25,000 farms.
There is a clear increase in the size of the remaining farms. For example, the average number of animals per cattle holding has increased significantly in recent years. In 2022, an average cattle farm had 157 animals (113 in 2012), a pig farm 2,313 animals (1,863 in 2012) and a poultry farm 67,362 animals (41,769 in 2012). In total, there were 1.25 million cattle, 5.4 million pigs and 45.5 million poultry in Flanders in 2022.
Farmers are increasingly opting for dairy cows and chickens. Suckler cattle and pigs, on the other hand, are in sharp decline. It was recently announced that a fifth of pig farmers will join a buy-out scheme set up by the Flemish government as part of its recently approved nitrogen agreement, which aims to reduce the number of pigs.
On a European level, Flanders scores well with a production value of 255,000 euros per farm. This puts the region in third place after the Netherlands and Denmark. It also has a low dependency on European subsidies. "This puts us on the European stage twice over," says Brouns.
However, several farmers turned up at Monday's presentation to demonstrate their dissatisfaction. The many farmers' actions in Belgium today are part of wider protests in many European countries for better prices and less stringent European standards.
In Flanders, the protests are mainly targeted at the Flemish government's nitrogen agreement, which aims to reduce emissions. Brouns spoke to the farmers who came out to protest. Talks between the two parties focused largely on the nitrogen pact, with farmers saying the new legislation would create "increased uncertainty" in their sector.
#FlandersNewsService | Flemish Agriculture minister Jo Brouns © BELGA PHOTO NICOLAS MAETERLINCK