Agriculture has been one of the most important means of subsistence since prehistoric times. During the Middle Ages, agriculture was mainly organized by large landowners, including monasteries, or by colonists who turned wastelands into cultivated farms, for instance, in the borderland between the provincesof Hollandand Utrecht. In the later Middle Ages, serfdom disappeared in most parts of western Europe. Agriculture became mostly a smallscale enterprise in the Netherlands, farmers being owners or tenants. During the 19th century, agriculture was a prospering sector of economic activities, particularly in the coastal provinces, apart from a severe agricultural crisis in 1878; other production, cooperation, and specializing countered this crisis. In the last decades of this century, the farms in the sandy areas of the country transformed from a socalled peasant economy to a more profitable commercial economy. In the 20th century, the number of farms has steadily decreased, although new land was reclaimed in the IJsselmeer. Yet, through intensive cultivation, economies of scale, and modern techniques, some sectors such as the production of cheese, vegetables, and flowers have survived or prospered. Dairy farming also remained a highly developed branch. Nevertheless, the agricultural sector has not ceased shrinking, dropping from about 300,000 farms in 1968 to around 145,000 in 1980 and about 81,000 in 2005. Now using about 54 percent of the Dutch soil, it represents about 2 percent of gross national product. The proportion of people working in agriculture diminished from about 17 percent in 1950 to just 1 percent of the present labor force. This decline has probably been eased by policies of the European Union (EU) and its predecessors. The issuing of rules, for instance, to decrease milk and dung surpluses, has made farming a more complicated activity recently. Furthermore, swine fever (1997), foot-and-mouth disease (2001), and fowl pest (2003) had to be controlled. Yet, the Netherlands is still one of world’s greatest exporters of agricultural products. Dutch forestry, however, is only a marginal industry, because woodland is scarce and mostly used for recreational purposes.
   See also Fishing; Wageningen.

Historical Dictionary of the Netherlands. . 2012.

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