Sunday, August 08, 2004


Province of Hainaut, Belgium, August 8, 2004

and I don’t want to spoil your summer party but over here we have a saying "Oogst geschoren, winter geboren" (loosely translated as Harvest done, Winter born). Anyway, this pic is a good excuse to enlighten you with a couple of stats on Belgian agriculture. Small as Belgium is, it luckily manages to exploit more than half of its area for agricultural purposes (17,511 square kloms out of 30,528). A little less than 100,000 people (mid-2004 estimate: 97,700) are working full-time in farming, but their number is declining. Other than the photo suggests, Belgian agriculture’s mainstay is cattle in its various forms, and pig breeding is the crown jewel among these. A November 15, 2003 survey put the number of pigs in Belgovakia on 6,366,248, which is quite impressive when considering the number of Belgians (10,350,000). Since the pig business is mainly a Flemish undertaking (95%), and Flanders counts roughly 6,000,000 inhabitants, it’s an, ahem, interesting prospect we Flemings are outnumbered on our own soil by those happy (at least they think they are) pink grunting fourfooters. Considering the also impressive livestock of cows and veal, it is safe to say that the Belgian farmer is mainly a cattle farmer. Also important is the poultry sector with on average some 39,000,000 "units". I can tell, since my only neighbour is a poultry farmer who owns a chicken breeding farm churning out 42,000 ready-for-processing (ahem) chickens every six weeks.

Still Belgian crops can’t really be neglected either; chief among these are the grain crops which take in 319,625 hectares. Next come fodder crops, like maize for cows (logical in view of the importance of cattle in Belgian agriculture), on 248,409 hectare, and then the so-called "industrial crops" (sugarbeet, chicory, flax, cole-seed, tobacco, hop, and agricultural seed): they take in 134,873 hectare. The most important crop among these industrial ones is sugarbeet, easy to understand in a country where the chocolate industry needs huge amounts of sugar. Of the abovementioned 134,873 ha, 88,377 hectare is used for sugarbeet cultivation. I don’t have the numbers for Wallonia, the southern French-speaking part of Belgium, but in Flanders, where Tienen, the Mecca of Belgian Sugar production is situated, around 64 tons of sugarbeets are harvested per hectare. These 64 tons yield 10 tons of sugar. In other words, the sugar farmer’s 88,377 hectares produce 883,770 tons of sugar. Given that the sector is very heavily subsidized and that sugar farmers are – yet – guaranteed a sale at attractive prices, they are considered the Princes of Belgian Agriculture. The last important bloc of agricultural area is taken in by potato cultivation, accounting for 66,348 hectare.

As an afterthought, I might add that the Flemish farmer (again, I’m sorry but have no data on Wallonian farmers, read am too lazy to look it up), that the Flemish farmer doesn’t have to be ashamed next to his European counterparts. Flanders, with its roughly 13,000 square kloms (it is somewhat more than one third of Belgium) stands for only 0,47% of European farming grounds and counts only 0,56% of European agricultural enterprises – yet it produces 1,9% of European agricultural products.

.....(are you still there? Think of this as one of those indefensible rants)

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