More than 27% of the total land area of the Netherlands is under seasonal or permanent crop production. Grasslands account for about 54% of all agricultural lands. Most farms are effectively managed and worked intensively with mechanical equipment. The many cooperatives have added to the efficiency of production and distribution.
Although agricultural production has decreased in recent years, labor productivity in Dutch agricultural and horticultural industries has risen sharply. The number of holdings declined by over 17% from the mid–1970s to the mid–1980s; in 2000 there were 51,725 arable holdings. The agricultural labor force totaled 254,000 in 1999.
Much of the soil in the east and southeast is poor. Moreover, large regions are so moist because of their low altitude that only grass can be grown profitably, a condition that has led to the enormous development of the dairy industry. The best land is found in reclaimed polders. Principal crops and output in 2002 (in millions of kg) were sugar beets, 6,250; potatoes, 7,363; wheat, 1,057; barley, 315; rye, 17; and triticale, 24.
The Netherlands is famous for its bulbs grown for export, principally tulip, hyacinth, daffodil, narcissus, and crocus. Flower growing is centered at Aalsmeer (near Amsterdam), and nurseries are situated mainly at Boskoop. Bulb growing, done principally at Lisse and Hillegom, between Haarlem and Leiden, has been extended in recent years to areas of North Holland. In 2000, land area for growing bulbs totaled 22,543 hectares (55,700 acres).
Since the beginning of this century, the government has been helping the agrarian sector through extension services, the promotion of scientific research, and the creation of specific types of agricultural education. In the 1930s, an extensive system of governmental controls of agricultural production was introduced, and after World War II (1939–45), an even more active policy was initiated, which evolved into integrated planning covering practically every aspect of rural life. In recent years, the government has actively encouraged the consolidation of small landholdings into larger, more efficient units.