Speech by His Majesty the King at Holland Hub Australia / Farm to Fork Summit / Dutch trade event, Cockatoo Island, Sydney
Ladies and gentlemen,
It’s wonderful to see you all here today. So many passionate entrepreneurs. So many people who know from experience how much Australia and the Netherlands have to offer each other.
This is the fourth day of the state visit that my wife and I are paying to this beautiful country. We know Australia well from previous visits, and it’s great to be back. This really is an inspiring country.
Today, the Dutch have annexed this island – by peaceful means, I should add. And yesterday we took over the Opera House, too, which was bathed in orange light. Dutch people feel at home in Australia, even if it might seem that our countries have little in common.
The Netherlands is a small, wet river delta in Europe. And Australia, of course, is an immense continent in the southern hemisphere between the Indian and Pacific Oceans. Poles apart, you might think.
But are we really?
One of the first people to compare Australia and the Netherlands was the Dutch mariner Jan Carstensz. He arrived at Cape York in 1623, in a ship of the Dutch East India Company. Heading inland in search of food and water, his first impression was, ‘It’s just like Holland here!’
Perhaps Carstensz needed glasses. But it’s remarkable that he immediately saw the land’s agricultural potential. The soil, he wrote, was good to plant and sow in. And he praised the splendid fields that stretched in every direction.
History proved Carstensz right. Today, Australia and the Netherlands are both among the world’s leading agricultural nations.
In the case of the Netherlands, that’s quite surprising when you consider that our country is smaller than Tasmania. The soil isn’t especially fertile and the climate isn’t ideal either. And yet, we’re the second-biggest agricultural exporter on the planet. Only the US exports more.
Living in a tiny, densely populated country forces you to be inventive. With more than four hundred people per square kilometre, we’ve had to build compact, smart cities and make careful use of limited space. For many years now we’ve invested in climate-smart water management based on the principle of ‘building with nature’. We say ‘preparing is better than repairing’. Just like you here in Sydney, where water management is a highly topical issue too.
It makes sense for us to join forces on research and education. This morning we met with enthusiastic students and researchers at the University of Sydney. There’s no question that we have a lot to offer each other – and the world at large. Take the food and agricultural sectors, for example.
At present, food production accounts for one-third of global energy consumption, half of the world’s usable land surface and two-thirds of its fresh water supply. In the future this simply won’t be tenable, because the world’s population is going to keep growing.
And then there’s the problem of narrow profit margins in the agriculture sector. Many farmers running family businesses are worried. Will their sons or daughters be able to take over one day? This is a pressing issue in both Australia and the Netherlands. In Australia, for example, half of all farmers are over the age of 55.
So we need to find solutions together. And we will find them if we keep innovating together.
Innovation is what makes Dutch productivity in agriculture and horticulture five times higher than the European average. That’s five times the yield per acre, using less energy and less water. In a Dutch hothouse you need four litres of water to grow a kilo of tomatoes. In an open field you need 15 times more.
Dutch researchers recently came up with the idea of growing vegetables in a simulated version of Martian soil. It’s science fiction made real! These Martian tomatoes and runner beans turned out to be perfectly edible. Only the potatoes were slightly bitter; they’ll need more work. But the project shows that, for us, even the sky’s not the limit!
A few months ago I visited a Dutch farmer.
He uses a drone to measure exactly how much food each plant needs, so that not a gram is wasted. I’d been looking forward to driving the farmer’s tractor. But in the end it wasn’t as exciting as I’d hoped: the tractor drove itself!
It’s great to see Australia and the Netherlands inspiring each other with new ideas. Please take this opportunity to meet each other and learn about the latest developments in each country. Today, Cockatoo Island is one big hothouse for great ideas. And, believe me, it caters to every taste. So I wish you all a most productive afternoon!