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 (CBS).
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 lowlands 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.
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