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“Agriculture with a positive environmental impact”

Designing a future farming system that embodies a scientifically-proven positive impact on its environment is the aim of the recently-started TiFN Regenerative Farming Project. “By demonstrating proof-of-principle we want to inspire entrepreneurs in the primary sector to adopt more-sustainable solutions”, says project leader Frederiek van Lienen.

Currently, food production goals are often a trade-off between the needs of the environment, the landscape and biodiversity. “Balancing the needs of all three areas is essential if we want to make true progress on the road to sustainability”, says Van Lienen. Significantly though, she sees regenerative farming as a possible foundation stone of a circular economy.

Integral approach
The four-year Regenerative Farming Project, begun in September 2018 with FrieslandCampina, Cosun and trade organization BO Akkerbouw as industry partners, will develop scenarios for creating an agricultural system with a positive impact on the environment. “This is a radically different approach, compared to current policies that aim only to reduce the negatives effects of existing farming”, Van Lienen explains. “We strongly believe that we should move away from the current focus on maximizing high yields, and work towards a systems approach in which multiple goals are met: from improving soil quality, increasing biodiversity, closing nutrient cycles and improving water quality, whilst ensuring farmers can earn a good living.”

Two PhD fellows have been hired: one (seconded to Wageningen University & Research) is focussing on bio-physical issues such as What is the impact of certain types of production on the ecosystem at a specific location and What are the environmental benefits of a cattle breeder and arable farmer working closely together. The other (seconded to Utrecht University) will dive into the socio-economic issues that can hinder this necessary transition, such as policies, taxes, economic viability and knowledge acquisition and transfer.

Scientifically-sound vision
“The biophysical and socio-economic elements will be integrated into one scientifically-sound overall vision, supported by quantified data”, says Van Lienen. “Subsequently we will investigate case studies of innovative farmers and perform a whole-systems analysis to get insights into opportunities and obstacles. This will enable us to develop scenario studies that examine how to get, by 2050, from where we currently are to achieving our project goals.”

Opportunities for action
Van Lienen expects the project will generate much valuable, hands-on insight into how to make this difficult shift to truly-sustainable farming. “We want to learn from innovative farmers in the field and overcome prejudices such as, for example, the belief that many innovations are not scalable or economically viable or that not enough food is being produced”, she says. “This will inspire companies throughout the supply chain to follow our example.”