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New project: Regenerative farming

A science-based outline of a potential regenerative-farming system in the Netherlands, combined with actionable transition scenarios, are the key deliverables of the newest project in the TiFN portfolio, Regenerative Farming. The four-year project, involving a broad range of partners from the private sector and knowledge institutes, will receive €2.5m funding from Topsector Agri&Food and the private sector.  

From complying with the Paris Climate Agreement’s net zero (human induced) greenhouse gas emissions commitment, to the circular and regenerative use of nutrients and soil, as described in the (Netherlands) National Raw Materials Agreement, the Dutch agricultural sector faces significant challenges on the road to meeting its long-term goals for sustainable food production. “Over time the sector needs to shift towards a production system with a neutral or positive impact on climate, soils, water and biodiversity”, says Wouter-Jan Schouten, Theme Director Food-Chain Sustainability at TiFN. “Current studies focus on specific areas or disciplines and aim to reduce negative impacts, but we are lacking research that takes an integrated systems perspective, with the aim of achieving positive impacts.”

Research strategy
Seeing this need for a systems approach, TiFN defined Regenerative Farming as a key direction in its research strategy for the coming years. “We have brought together eight research and industry partners who are committed to investing in this challenging project”, says Schouten. Partners include FrieslandCampina, Royal Cosun, BO Akkerbouw, Commonland, Wageningen University & Research, the Copernicus Institute of Sustainable Development (Utrecht University), the University of Amsterdam and Het Groene Brein.

Bridging the think-do gap
The project has five work packages: they include creating an integrated, contextual outline for a revised Dutch agricultural production system (by 2050); co-creating – together with arable farmers and dairy farmers – best practices in regenerative production, and shaping robust, quantified scenarios for transitioning to a regenerative production system at national scale. “Based on a thorough analysis of the technological, social, economic and policy barriers between the existing system and a regenerative system, we will develop actionable transition scenarios that can bridge the think-do gap”, Schouten illustrates.

The theme director is proud of the new public-private partnership. “We have brought together partners with the will and the potential to establish large-scale systemic change. Moreover, we have gathered a broad and diverse scientific consortium, embracing disciplines that include the political and social sciences, agro-ecology, agro-technology and economic research.”

Transition
For Schouten the project marks the beginning of a significant transition. “I hope that, within a few years, we will have consensus about what constitutes a future agricultural system with a neutral or positive impact on climate, soils, water and biodiversity, and that we will have created clear opportunities for action for establishing such a system. This will be crucial to ensure future value growth of the agrifood sector via regenerative production methods that positively impact both people and planet.”

The project is planned to kick-off early September 2018.

Field of hay bales. Harvesting at the end of the summer.