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Scaling regenerative agriculture in the Netherlands

What are the benefits of regenerative agriculture?

Pressure on environmental boundaries affects the productivity of agricultural systems, which has negative consequences for food security and prices. This downward spiral highlights the growing importance of reshaping our food systems. As opposed to intensive farming and its related challenges, regenerative agriculture helps meet society’s changing needs with regards to limiting impact on the planet and people.

Current agricultural methods can leave a damaging environmental legacy and produce food of lower nutritional value compared to previous years. By reshaping the food systems, we can succeed in:

  • lowering GHG emissions; 
  • reducing freshwater consumption;
  • cutting back on nitrate pollution; 
  • improving soil quality and fertility; 
  • enhancing biodiversity;
  • and growing more nutrient-rich crops.

Food for thought

The Netherlands, through its intensive (albeit effective) farming methods, has unenviable scores for nitrate use and water quality in particular, so there’s mounting pressure for change. Farmers are happy to support this innovation, but there are challenges for them to do so. For example, there’s the ongoing rise in food demand, which comes largely through population growth and concerns over food security and pricing. Any new approach must be able to generate sufficient supply. What’s more, in addition to satisfying domestic consumption, the Netherlands exports around 80 billion euros in agricultural produce, which contributes to soil degradation and biodiversity loss, affecting crops and the environment. So, the stakes are high and they involve many stakeholders collaborating along the value chain, including input suppliers of feed and seed; retailers; and distributors.

The benefits to the planet from applying alternative practices to produce food are clear, but the benefits and risks to those involved in production - together with ever-broadening environmental legislation and government policy - will be the deciding factors for how and when change happens.

What is regenerative agriculture?

One alternative approach to current large-scale intensive farming methods is ‘regenerative agriculture’, which is gaining the attention of the public and influential institutions. This more holistic approach aims to satisfy demand while enhancing ecosystem health - primarily through soil restoration and greater integration of nature and agriculture. The principles and practices of regenerative agriculture include reduced tillage, planned grazing, permanent soil cover and decreased chemical use. The outcomes include reduced GHG emissions, improved water quality, enhanced biodiversity, more stable crop yields and better soil resilience to climate effects.

What are the opportunities within regenerative agriculture?

Reaping these rewards requires economic incentives, plugging knowledge gaps and the complexity of changing existing farming practices to create viable new business models. As with any investment, understanding the payback period and financing options for producers is key - as are the consequences for not adopting these methods in terms of impaired market competitiveness, reduced stakeholder engagement and penalties for not complying with environmental regulations.

For crop farmers, the case for change is straightforward: avoided yield loss, additional income from carbon credits and reduced fertiliser and crop-protection costs should be incentive enough. Indeed, regenerative practices in this segment could outperform conventional methods by around €250/ha after 6-10 years.

For dairy farmers, the case for change is more complex: lower yields are likely, but that could be offset by lower costs of items such as livestock concentrates and mitigated through subsidies and similar alternative income streams.

How we can scale regenerative agriculture together

Overall, regenerative agriculture is promising for the longer term. Many positive signs are happening now. For instance, the Dutch government plans to invest €129 million in Re-Ge-NL - a programme with a strong focus on research and regenerative practices. Meanwhile, the International “4 per 1000” Initiative and broader EU programmes such as ‘Food to Fork’ are further examples of how change is underway.

Scaling regenerative agriculture in the Netherlands describes this sustainable new farming approach in more detail, sets out the risks and rewards for Dutch players and identifies opportunities for collaboration to accelerate uptake. Download our new point of view to learn more.

Feel free to contact Arthur de Wilde or Stefania Daniolos to discuss the opportunities for your agribusiness.

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