A creak can be heard in the arable yard of Geduho Farm in Oud-Beijerland. It comes from a machine that lifts a big box of potatoes, turns it over and puts it back down. What’s the use of that? “We mix the potatoes a little bit,” explains owner Gerben van Dieren den Hollander. “If the potatoes rub against each other, more stems will come out.”
This is exactly what you don’t want in a kitchen cupboard. But with the Geduho seed potatoes, these runners are very desirable. Because the potatoes then produce more new tubers. It’s one of those clever tricks that help you get the most out of your crop.
This is also necessary. The need for food is great, but the margins are relatively small. “In a company like ours, millions of dollars worth of food goes in and out. But in the end we end up with a salary that is slightly above average,” says Van Dieren den Hollander.
Meanwhile, the government and society are increasingly critical of the environmental impact of agriculture. Also in arable farming much “less” is needed. Less fertilizers and pesticides on Earth. Less control than before on the ideal water level for the crop, because the interests of nature also have a great influence.
So much about nitrogen and livestock
Arable agriculture is not the sector that digs its heels into the sand – or mud. It is precisely these farmers who suffer directly from the consequences of droughts and heavy rains. The insight BO Akkerbouw recently posted is pretty much about this.
For example, the sector organization wants to pay extra attention to healthy soil, which can absorb water better during heavy showers. Tractors and agricultural machinery will eventually become electric. Arable agriculture would like to grow more protein-rich crops such as beans, which would fit into a diet with less meat.
These are the themes that often come up when it comes to the future of agriculture. However, André Hoogendijk, director of BO Akkerbouw, sometimes finds it difficult to get the attention he needs in the political Hague. “It has a lot to do with the nitrogen,” he notes.
“Even then, it sometimes surprises me that we are only talking about livestock. Arable agriculture is also responsible for 10 percent of emissions. I sometimes wondered if anything was expected of us. But no, in the ministry they focused mainly on raising livestock.”
Cuts in the DNA
Hoogendijk notes that questions critical to arable farming remain unanswered. Perhaps most important: Does the government see the benefits of the groundbreaking CRISPR-Cas gene technology? Scientists can now precisely cut and replace a piece of plant DNA.
A technology that offers huge possibilities, but also involves ethical dilemmas. Using CRISPR-Cas, you can – in the extreme case – create a person with desirable characteristics. Cutting plant DNA could be an important answer to key questions about food security and climate change.
For example, it is possible to genetically modify a crop in such a way as to make it more drought-tolerant. “Or think of the potato disease Phytophthora,” says Hoogendijk. “It always turned out to be very difficult to develop fungus-resistant potato varieties through traditional seed breeding.” In other words: It works, but it often only works for a short time, because the fungus continues to adapt.
Not without pesticides
In Geduho in Oud-Beijerland, things have not been so bad with the plant in recent years. “In dry summers, the fungus develops less quickly,” explains the arable farmer Van Dueren den Hollander. But if the dreaded potato blight takes hold, you can’t escape using pesticides.
The company uses it less specifically than before. but without? This is not possible, as far as van deren den Hollander is concerned. Of course, there are biological colleagues who succeed. But if the entire sector were to function without them, it would result in food that was too expensive and too little, and that was his logic. “Although I think the traditional and the organic will increasingly converge.”
Hoogendijk believes this is exactly where CRISPR-Cas technology can help. “With resistant and resilient varieties, you need much less pesticides.” But this technology is now subject to strict genetic modification rules in Europe and is therefore not applicable in practice. In the United States, for example, this technology is already allowed to be used. “I hope the Netherlands will make a case for this, so that the EU will act.”
But do we really know what we’re getting into, or are we creating a monster? “It’s not normal for plants to fully reproduce,” Hoogendijk says. “No broccoli grows in the forest either. CRISPR-Cas technology makes things more focused and faster. Methods of influencing plant DNA by radiation have been around for many years. This is permissible and, in my opinion, much more interesting and unfocused.”
Another important point of interest for BO Akkerbouw already falls on fertile ground in The Hague: Biologically based to construct. Or, in good Dutch: building with natural materials without burdening the earth. For example, by making greater use of the building materials that arable agriculture could grow, such as flax and hemp. The Cabinet wants to encourage this type of sustainable building through standards, as evidenced by the climate plans presented by Minister Cetin last week.
Hoogendijk believes this provides opportunities. But wait a minute: Does it really make sense to use good farmland for things other than food production? He replies: “Arable farmers are thinking of building plans.” By this he does not mean drawing up a new residential area, but rather the long-term planning of how the farmer will use his land.
After all, it is not a good idea to grow the same crop on the same plot of land every year. Variety is important for a good harvest and healthy soil. And let a crop like hemp ask for little soil, grow quickly with little fertilizer and lots of carbon dioxide2 bond. “Hemp is therefore very suitable for crop rotation,” says Hoogendijk. “So we are happy to respond to this growing demand.”
Good onion year
Gerben van Dueren den Hollander also sees a growing demand for potatoes and onions. It’s in a good place, especially in times of climate change. It’s in a fertile delta, but still far enough from the sea not to bother you too much with salinity. Partly because of this, he had a rare good onion last year.
“The dry summer makes it more difficult here,” he asserts. “It forces us to use water more economically and carefully. But where we still have reasonable harvests, things are going badly in southern Europe. As a result, there has been a lot of demand from Spain, for example, and prices are going up. We must be aware that Holland is on In particular it is an area where we can continue to produce food, even as the climate changes.”
It can solve the problem of housing shortage and build sustainably
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