Turning the TopDutch region into one big, sustainable, cooperative
The world is rapidly changing. As new global challenges such as a growing population and climate change are combined with new green and digital innovations, we can but hazard a guess what the world will look like in 50 years’ time. But who better to ask than our TopDutch experts for a vision of the future? In the third of this series, we’re asking Janny Peltjes, CEO of the agricultural research company HLB Research. Her plan? By 2070, the TopDutch region will develop into one large cooperative.
If Janny Peltjes of the agricultural research company HLB Research has anything to do with it, the arable farmers of 2070 will look far beyond the boundaries of their own land. Intensive cooperation between arable farmers themselves, and also with livestock farmers is needed to protect crops against crop diseases more naturally and with more green and organic means. In the future, farmers in various sectors will cooperate with each other, in cooperatives and at regional level in order to achieve healthy arable farming. Certain diseases and pests are easy to control if everyone in the area cooperates. How will we get there?
Ingredient #1. The end of chemical crop protection
‘Transparency is also something that characterizes the future of arable farming. That certainly applies to crop protection. Since the post-war years, when the crop protection industry was emerging, the production capacity of the Netherlands as arable land has increased fivefold. Chemicals have been very effective in combating multiple crop diseases simultaneously. But those chemicals are now increasingly being banned or withdrawn from the market because of social unrest and in some cases also because of the harmful effects on people and nature.’
Ingredient #2. Crop protection, but make it biological
‘By 2070, chemical pesticides will have completely disappeared. The challenge for the agri sector is to manage diseases and pests in a different way whilst maintaining a decent income model. The use of chemicals has accelerated production in the past. The transition to crop protection through more green, biological means, through different rotations and through the cultivation of other crops in the crop plan takes time and costs money. The income model should also be maintained to prevent the agricultural sectors from being weakened.’
‘At the same time, systems from the agricultural past of the 1950s are being resurrected. They serve as the basis for new rotations and crop plans. Techniques such as sterile insects and control with natural predators are also commonplace. By 2070, crop protection will be an integrated system combining old-fashioned down-to-earthness with digital, biological and molecular precision.'
‘In that future system, we will make maximum use of nature. We’ll create a natural balance, using ample rotations, healthy crop plans, space for built-in resistance, natural predators of harmful insects, sterile insects and a mountain of data. The sectors blend together, creating integrated companies, cooperatives and fully cooperating regions that can integrate many links, including in the direction of retail and marketing.'
Ingredient #3. Partnership in cooperatives
‘In the agricultural system of the future, the agri sector and nature will be more closely in balance. Farmers will be more engaged with the end consumer. In fifty years' time, through this intensive cooperative, farmers will form a new agricultural system that is in close contact with society. New forms of agriculture and nature conservation are emerging, which benefit from this cooperation. The use of all kinds of residual flows in the partnership also leads to the creation of new revenue models for agriculture. I expect cooperatives of farmers to play a major role in this and a holistic regional approach.’
‘What happens with the neighbors is just as important to the effect as your own farm. A good current example is the control of the onion fly by means of the Sterile Insect Technique. Certain harmful insect populations are infiltrated by sterile insects, which keeps the pest under control. This fully organic technique only works if all growers participate in an area. Local authorities, too, will have to facilitate cooperation between sectors and not make it more difficult with excessive regulation.'
‘A good example of this is the new role of marigolds. This plant, also known as tagetes, is used, for example, to control a common nematode that can result in the failure of crops - especially flower bulbs. Tagetes is now back in vogue as a replacement for chemical pesticides. Tagetes also ensures a healthier and better producing crop in the soil life in the subsequent crops. The flowers also contain all kinds of important substances, such as lutein, which can counteract eye degeneration. This substance, which is still mainly imported from China, will be produced locally in the future. By 2070, this more holistic way of cultivating arable land will become more widespread.’
Janny’s vision for TopDutch
‘Without chemical pesticides, every agricultural entrepreneur is dependent on what his neighbor does. In the future, the agricultural sector will form one overarching economic system. These days, thinking stops at the boundary marking. In fifty years' time, how people think will affect the whole region.’
‘Our knowledge of the soil will be much greater in 2070 than it is today. The soil quality will be high and a fully circular system will be in place.The need for strong, healthy, insect- and disease-resistant crop varieties means that the Netherlands, as a developer of seed and seed potatoes, will be able to seize great opportunities. In the TopDutch region there are opportunities to excel in the seed material for onions, potatoes and sugar beet.’
‘By taking a pioneering approach to the crop plan, the TopDutch region will achieve higher added value per square meter in 2070 than it does today. The Northern Netherlands has all the ingredients it needs to create new forms of arable farming.'
Janny Peltjes is a farmer and the founder and CEO of HLB Research & Consultancy. The HLB Group conducts research and provides practical advice for the improvement of plant and soil health. In the laboratories and test facilities, researchers carry out tests and analyses on nematodes, fungi, bacteria and viruses in plants and soil. The company also documents soil fertility and nutrients in the soil and advises the agri sector on physical, chemical and biological parameters. One HLB Research's special activities involves developing knowledge of biological crop protection. Anne Kippers, a student at the Aeres University of Applied Sciences and the daughter of Janny Peltjes, was also present at the interview.
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