What's in store for the rural sector? Host of The Country radio show Jamie Mackay got a glimpse at the Bayer Future of Farming Dialogue conference in Düsseldorf and Amsterdam. Here's what he discovered:
Even though it was very much tempered by sitting much closer to the front than the back, 17 hours is a hell of a long time to be stuck on a plane.
The Auckland-Dubai direct flight is the third-longest commercial flight on the planet, behind Auckland-Doha and Perth-London.
The world faces a food crisis. How to feed a potential population of 10 billion people by 2050? In 1960 we had more than one acre (0.4 ha) of arable land for every person on the planet. Today that number is less than half that. Many of our most productive soils now grow only houses.
Read more: Jesus Madrazo on how farmers feed the world
There's huge debate in Europe (and around the world, for that matter) about the use of glyphosates in agriculture. Some are arguing the likes of Roundup is carcinogenic. There appears to be a lot of scaremongering. There is no obvious replacement for glyphosates which have revolutionised minimum tillage agriculture and soil conservation.
Case in point was a very moving presentation at the conference from the Kenyan widow who had doubled her crop production to help feed her family, courtesy of new farming technology and fertiliser.
She was a wonderfully expressive and charismatic woman who regaled us with the story of her trip to Germany being the first time she had flown in an aeroplane and how aghast she was that the sky did not have roads for planes to travel on!
However, we also heard terrible examples of the misuse of chemicals and pesticides. China has only 8 per cent of the world's arable land, yet uses 35 per cent of the world's pesticides. Of that total, 60 per cent of the pesticides used are wasted. Tragically 100,000 Chinese farmers are killed by farming chemicals every year.
German bread is to die for. And the beer isn't too bad either, although some of the higher alcohol beers are very heavy going and not for the faint-hearted. Then there's the local delicacy, the sweet curry bratwurst (sausage). I'm not quite sure what the German translation is for Jenny Craig, if indeed one exists!
The most interesting person I met on tour was a young London banker, Luke Blomfield, whose real passion is entomophagy – the study of the practice of eating insects. By day he crunches numbers for HSBC. By night the banker-turned-bug-aficionado grows and eats insects.
But make no mistake, this young man is no kaftan-wearing, save-the-snails, hippie. Rather, he dresses as a London banker should and his passion is driven not only by environmental (insects can be farmed on food waste) and food security issues but also by the entrepreneurial and financial opportunities entomophagy offers.
An alumni of the Bayer World Youth Ag Summit of 2017, Luke has his sights set firmly on cashing in on the opportunities protein-rich insects offer.
Read more: Are insects the future of farming?
The most interesting place we went to on tour was the Bayer Forward Farm outside Amsterdam where fifth generation arable farmer Jasper Roubos runs an intensive 60-hectare cropping operation growing potatoes, onions and wheat. It boundaries the extremely busy Schiphol international airport and the Amsterdam to Paris train route, also one of the busiest in Europe.
Like many Dutch farmers he farms below sea level, in his case 6m below, in what was once a lake bed 12km from the ocean. The Netherlands has 350,000km of waterways on an incredibly low-lying and intensively farmed and populated country. More than a quarter is under sea level and only one half of the country sits more than 1m above sea level.
If we think we have increasingly tough environmental constraints around farming in New Zealand, think again. Dutch farmers operate under incredible scrutiny. So tough is the regime that professional spraying contractors who look after the likes of the roadsides are no longer allowed to use glyphosates. Instead they must destroy weeds with boiling water! The carbon footprint of which is far greater than chemicals. The folly of this policy is exacerbated by the fact that urbanites can wander into their local DIY store and buy (and use) glyphosates freely in their domestic gardens. Go figure!
Read more: Six metres under: Farming below sea level
The most mind-boggling presentation I encountered was at the world's leading agricultural place of learning, Wageningen, a Dutch university founded in 1876 as the National Agricultural College. One of the carrots for me in partaking of this four day conference was to find out more about the gene-editing technology known by the acronym CRISPR.
Unfortunately there was a reason I left science behind in the fifth form. My mind is hard-wired for accounting, economics, geography, history and sport. Biology and chemistry do not compute. I was gone after two slides. But I studiously took notes and am determined to get my head around what will undoubtedly be one of the biggest debates in agriculture in the coming years - whether we should contemplate GM grasses to combat methane emissions from ruminants in the battle against climate change. And if we do, will anyone want to consume the resultant meat and milk?
Even though the idea for the first autobahn was conceived in the mid-1920s, Adolf Hitler was quick to take credit with the Nazi takeover in 1933 as he ramped up construction. By 1936 nearly half a million Germans were mobilised to build these high-speed, multi-lane highways.
The German autobahns generally have no speed limits and 300km/h is not unheard of, as Volkswagens and Porsches blast past you. Add in the high-speed trains that criss-cross Europe and the Germans and the Dutch are good examples of ruthless efficiency when it comes to transporting people and goods around the borderless European Union. Our cities, most notably Auckland, should take heed.
As is the case with all European cities, Düsseldorf, on the banks of the mighty Rhine, is steeped with history. However, like many of its counterpart British port cities (such as Portsmouth, Southampton, Plymouth, Liverpool and Glasgow) Düsseldorf was decimated by the bombing blitz of World War II. Consequently a lot of the architecture is dominated by drab post-war concrete block buildings. Yet the old, untouched part of the city is quite stunning. I thoroughly enjoyed my stint in Düsseldorf. I mentioned the war. And, to quote Basil Fawlty, I think I got away with it.
Jamie Mackay, the host of The Country on Newstalk ZB and Radio Sport, flew to Europe courtesy of Bayer Crop Science for the Future of Farming Dialogue 2018 Conference.