The need for an agricultural transformation is great, but we cannot expect that from one actor. Successful transitions to regenerative agriculture require collaboration across the entire agricultural chain. A good example of chain cooperation is that between VP Capital, VP Landbrug and Soil Heroes. Together, they provide a transition that results in environmental benefits, resilience to climate change and a strengthened business case.
A necessary change in agriculture
Farmers (often for generations) faithfully do what is asked of them economically: to produce as much food as possible at the lowest possible prices. Now that we as a society are being shaken by the climate crisis, it is clear what we have been holding together for too long. A transition is now necessary, but it is not only the farmer’s responsibility. The entire sector faces the task of transforming itself to realize future-proof agriculture and food systems. Regenerative agriculture is an answer to this. Recent academic studies show that regenerative agriculture reduces input costs by phasing out chemical pesticides and fertilizers, restores ecosystem services, and yields per hectare can be compared to conventional farming methods.
Still, the transition to regenerative agriculture sounds easier in theory than it sometimes feels in practice. It takes an average of 5 to 7 years before the harvest is at the same level again. Financial support is needed to bridge this transition period, where chain partners can and must play a significant role. In addition, farmers need guidance to master the regenerative agriculture knowledge relevant to their type of farm. In order to provide environmental benefits, resilience to climate change and economic health, chain collaborations are necessary, where the farmer receives guidance and investment.
Chain collaboration is changing agriculture
One of the first B Corp family offices in Europe, VP Capital, decided to invest in the regenerative agricultural transformation with one of its parties, VP Agriculture. Thanks to VP Capital, VP Landbrug can transform 73 hectares into regenerative agriculture. This collaboration is overseen by Soil Heroes. All parties benefit from this cooperation. Soil Heroes helps VP Agriculture by providing insight into the current state of the soil through a comprehensive soil survey. Soil Heroes then makes the transition to regenerative farming manageable by providing the farmer with a step-by-step plan and a peer-to-peer learning group with other farmers. Soil Heroes monitors the use of regenerative farming methods and assesses the environmental benefits this provides on an annual basis. VP Capital pays VP Landbrug for the quantified environmental benefit. With this, VP Capital reduces the impact of one of its participants and makes an important contribution to climate change resilience for itself and our society.
The emergence and growth of a future-proof company
VP Capital was born from the Van Puijenbroek family’s workwear company. Six generations ago, Hendrik Van Puijenbroek BV started Textielfabrieken H. Van Puijenbroek, which is now called HAVEP. Today, the brand can be found on many farms, where the overalls with the neck label “You’ll never work alone” are still worn. From 2019, the investment company in the Van Puijenbroek family continues under the name VP Capital and in recent years has invested in more and more domains, including ‘agrifood’. A domain that they themselves are in the middle of.
In the 1940s, the family started the VP Landbouw farm on 400 hectares of farmland in the middle of 800 hectares of nature. On a combination of forest and agricultural land, which is rare for the Netherlands, this farm started with the supply of fertilizer as its main purpose, but today it produces field crops, milk and grass. For several years now, VP Capital has compensated for the CO2 emissions of itself (scope 1 1+2) and of its direct participants, including VP Agriculture (scope 3 of VP Capital = scope 1+2 of shares). This means that both VP Capital and VP Landbrug can call themselves climate neutral. By committing to Science Based Targets, VP Capital has gone a step further and committed to significant CO2 reduction targets. This also includes supporting VP Agriculture in reducing their carbon footprint.
It is VP Capital’s ambition to supplement their offsetting strategy, with which they became a climate-neutral company, with investment that they want to compensate and reduce the environmental impact in their chain and participations. Soil Heroes helps deployment by quantifying and valuing the environmental benefits generated by VP Agriculture. All these developments contribute to the ambition of the company, which has been able to call itself a B Corp since May 2022: to make the various investment domains and their production chains more sustainable. Through the current chain collaboration between VP Capital, VP Landbrug and Soil Heroes, VP Capital hopes to develop a well-functioning and scalable farming model that not only secures the next generations of the family, but which the entire agri-food sector can also follow.
Can my company also enter into the transition?
Soil Heroes provides farmers with a network to exchange knowledge. Through this peer-to-peer knowledge exchange, any farmer can learn about the practical application of regenerative agriculture from other farmers. Regenerative methods can present unknown challenges. Take, for example, to stop plowing. Plowing can be very effective in the short term for weed control, but in the long term it can cause large amounts of CO2 emissions, damage the soil’s biology and reduce the soil’s nutritional value. A regenerative alternative to plowing is to adjust sowing dates, plant companion crops and/or crop rotation. The challenge is that agricultural land must be sacrificed for crops that at first appear to have no function.
Therefore, in addition to a network, Soil Heroes offers insight into the quality of the agricultural soil by means of an overall measurement of the soil, the results of which are expressed in a so-called Soil Health Index. The soil health index shows the soil’s fertility on an annual basis by mapping the soil’s current biological, chemical and physical condition. By verifying and quantifying environmental effects, both farmers and investors can see what regenerative agriculture is, how it works and what the positive effects are.
This collaboration illustrates the impact-driven and step-by-step approach of Soil Heroes. Under the guidance of Soil Heroes, any business can start with a small pilot. Through a pilot with Soil Heroes, a farm can experience how regenerative agriculture works in practice and at the same time learn from other farmers who came before them. Like VP Agriculture, each individual farm can then proceed to an “input” program, where a partnership between farmers and companies is sought, where all parties can achieve both economic and climate benefits.
“The charm of the earth heroes is that (1) you can reduce the emissions in your own chain, (2) store your CO2 emissions in your own soil and (3) you invest in soil improvement. We still have a lot to learn, but ultimately we want to be an example in our sector. We must make this much-needed transition together. This transition is what can make VP Capital future-proof.” – Jobien Laurijssen, head of sustainability at VP Capital