Agricultural activity in Flemish municipalities. A typology

Sylvie Danckaert, Sonia Lenders & Andy Oeyen

September 2009

The aim of this study is to classify municipalities with a comparable agricultural activity into clusters that are as homogeneous as possible in order to provide a picture of the concentration and diversity of Flemish agriculture and horticulture.

The agricultural activity of each municipality is determined from the data of the 2007 Farm Structure Survey of the Federal Public Service Economy and is based on two profiles: the distribution of the number of businesses over a number of types of farming on the one hand, and the distribution of the economic dimension (Standard Output 2004) over a number of sectors on the other. 27 amalgamated municipalities were ruled out beforehand because they are too highly urbanised or industrialised. The remaining municipalities are grouped according to a greater or lesser degree of similarity in their profiles, based on a hierarchical classification according to Ward (to determine the number of groups) and a reallocation according to k-means to increase the quality of the classification. After reallocation the model has an explanatory quality of 70%.

From the clustering it is clear that, statistically speaking, the municipalities can best be classified into 11 groups. The most common production branch or crop group determines the name of the agricultural activity. The results are shown on a map so that location and spatial connection become clearly visible.

The following clusters could be identified:

  • specialisation pig or poultry breeding (50 municipalities): mainly located in West Flanders, Meetjesland, Waasland, North Antwerp and North Limburg.
  • pig or poultry breeding/cattle (41 municipalities): between Ghent and Bruges, at the confluence of the river Leie and the river Scheldt and in the northern part of the province of Limburg.
  • arable farming/cattle (34 municipalities): the (sandy) loam region
  • pig or poultry breeding/dairy cattle (28 municipalities): the Antwerp Campines
  • mainly dairy cattle (28 municipalities): the Flemish Ardennes-Pajottenland and distributed over Antwerp and Limburg.
  • ornamental plant cultivation/cattle (34 municipalities): around Ghent, around areas specialised in ornamental plant cultivation
  • specialisation fruit (18 municipalities): around Sint-Truiden
  • vegetables/cattle (18 municipalities): around the areas specialised in vegetable growing or around the auctions
  • pig or poultry breeding/vegetables (14 municipalities): the area around Roeselare
  • specialisation vegetables including strawberries (12 municipalities): the area around Sint-Katelijne-Waver
  • specialisation ornamental plant cultivation including tree nurseries (10 municipalities): southeast of Ghent


The regional concentrations and specialisations generally have a historical background. Thus, the locations of the municipalities with a pig or poultry breeding typology are (partly) explained by the locations of the mixed-feed industry and the abattoirs, and the municipalities with a vegetable or fruit typology are also concentrated around the auction houses and derived industry. Arable farming and dairy and beef cattle farming are primarily explained by soil-physical factors: arable farming on rich soils and livestock farming on other soils. Ornamental plant cultivation is historically concentrated around Ghent. After checking the agricultural history the classification method applied seems to be valid, in other words: the map of agricultural activity reflects reality accurately.

The results for 2007 were also compared to the results of Lenders (1998). Compared to those results, nine additional municipalities can be described as urbanised, and only 94 municipalities are classified under the same typology as then. For the remaining municipalities the typology has changed, which indicates a certain dynamism. This change can also be attributed to the fact that Wallonia was not taken into account, the use of Standard Output instead of Standard Gross Margin (no account is taken of subsidies and sector-specific costs anymore) or structural change (switch to new lines of business).

In order to monitor the evolution it would be interesting to repeat the study regularly.

Original version:



Danckaert S., Lenders S. & Oeyen A. (2009)
De landbouwactiviteit in Vlaamse gemeenten, proeve van typologie
Beleidsdomein Landbouw en Visserij, afdeling Monitoring en Studie, Brussel.



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