In addition to ecology, organic farming makes a positive contribution to public health and social justice. More emphasis should be placed on this, and it should also be possible to register it in concrete figures, experts believe.
‘It is unthinkable that we spend a lot of money on new cars or cat food, but have almost no extra left over for sustainable food,’ says director Michaël Wilde from Bionext. He sees it as a hallmark of the transition from a failing to a more responsible food system.
Wilde recently philosophized at a symposium held at and by the large agricultural company NZ27 in Zeewolde, Flevoland, on the future of organic farming with 2050 as a perspective. He replied to former Agriculture Minister Cees Veerman and director Martien Lankester of the Avalon Foundation, both of whom were asked to give their views.
Based on values
Lankester argues that growth in organic farming should be based on values, not rules. The fund he represents is committed to promoting biodynamic agriculture in the European Union (EU). Lankester emphasizes the contribution to society. ‘Beyond ecology, it is public health and social justice. It is not without reason that the Council for Integrated Sustainable Agriculture and Food last year in a scientific report concluded that there is no prospect of ecological sustainability without social sustainability. ‘
Organic farmers are comfortable in their business operations and have less stress in terms of policy and market prices
Stories and numbers should actually support values, says the director of the Avalon Foundation. There is therefore a need for methods for economic valuation of things like biodiversity and health. Real cost prices can contribute to this, with the aim of pricing organic products reasonably beyond the conventional ones.
Organic farmers are happier
Lankester also sees that organic farmers are happier than their usual counterparts. ‘They are comfortable in their business operations and have less stress in terms of policy and market prices.’ But that may change soon enough, warns NZ27 director Douwe Monsma. ‘Also in our sector, the mood is less if there are low earnings.’
Veerman does not believe that legislation is the big stick behind the door to achieve the EU’s target of 25 percent organic land by 2030. ‘Transition is inevitable, but it is difficult for the government to enforce it. Consistent incorporation of the added value of organic farming is better at gradually convincing those involved. ‘
Make health claims work
The former Minister of Agriculture advises the organic sector to work with health claims. ‘If you can achieve that, sales will come naturally.’ He also believes that providers should be united in a common trading platform. »Join a large cooperative and bring supply and demand together. This can optionally be combined with conventional. It is still good to narrow the distance. The art of surviving in agriculture is based on working together and looking for each other. ‘
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Veerman faces charges of lack of courage and foresight
In the discussion of stimulating organic farming, the Netherlands is often compared to Austria. In Austria, the share of organic in the agricultural area is already 25 percent, while the share of the Netherlands remains at 4 percent. According to an organic breeder at the symposium, this has everything to do with the Austrian government’s progressive vision. “Organic farming has always been strongly supported there, also financially. In this connection, the Ministry of Agriculture lacks courage and also lacks an overview when it comes to the direction that agriculture must choose. It was not much better in Minister Veerman’s time ‘, says the critical entrepreneur. Veerman does not agree with him. ‘Organic is one of the solutions to the conversion of agriculture, but not the only solution. It is also vision. When I was sitting in the cabinet, we were also campaigning to stimulate organic farming, and that had a positive effect at the time. It is also worth pointing out that agriculture in Austria is smaller in scale and structurally more suitable for switching to organic. That makes the comparison difficult. ‘
Looking to the future, the question is how organic products can be better marketed and also to what extent organic must still be distinctive. In addition to Wilde, short-chain entrepreneur Gerjan Snippe from the organic cultivation and trading company Bio Brass and vegan Joost van Strien shared their views on this.
Mandatory market share
Wilde states that he is happy with the EU’s goal of making 25% of agricultural land organic. ‘But a mandatory organic market share of 25 per cent would have been even better. Then you send on request. Politicians are now responsible for the growth of the free market sector. ‘
Both Wilde and Snippe think it is good that organic entrepreneurs maintain more direct contact with the supermarkets. ‘We try to tell our story and listen to the wishes of the market,’ says Snippe. ‘For example, we have been able to turn an old-fashioned vegetable like beetroot into a highly coveted organic product.’
Catch in KPIs
When it comes to distinctiveness, Van Strien points to issues such as being climate neutral, contributing to circular agriculture, nitrogen emissions, biodiversity and animal friendliness. “The question is, to what extent do we score better on this than conventional agriculture. We need to be able to detect this with, for example, KPIs (critical performance indicators) in order to convince the consumer. ‘
As organizers of the symposium, Monsma and chairman Jules van der Weerd of the NZ27 Foundation are pleased with the discussion. Like Van Strien, Monsma believes it is important that the organic sector delivers what it promises. ‘It would be good for it if the European organic quality label was given more weight.’
Finally, Van der Weerd heard Wilde say that making agriculture more sustainable should go beyond just the Ministry of Agriculture. ‘Due to the impact on public health and social affairs, other ministries should be involved. It was a real eye opener for me. ‘
Organic farming on NZ27 in the coming years
NZ27 is an agricultural company in southern Flevoland that was already cultivated without chemicals and fertilizer in 1970 by the then Rijksdienst for IJsselmeerpolders. At the time, this was inspired by the report ‘Limits to Growth’ from the Club of Rome. The name NZ27 refers to the old lot designation that the company received when it was issued and the original size was 500 ha. In 1996, NZ27 was privatized and continued as a fund with an operating company. As director, Douwe Monsma is responsible for the operational management, and Jules van der Weerd is chairman of the foundation’s board. The primary goal of the fund is to maintain organic farming on the NZ27 for many years to come. The company is therefore organic from the start. The current area of NZ27 is 210 hectares and the crop plan consists of potatoes, cereals, onions, beets, pumpkins, peas, beans, sweet corn and pumpkin. Monsma explains that especially the good quality of the soil in southern Flevoland makes the company suitable for organic farming. ‘Good soil is an absolute prerequisite for the success of growing organic crops.’