While the agriculture sector is under tension, concerned farmers are showing a way to calm down. Hence the jury considers this as the best sustainable initiative of 2022.
It was one of the last cows to leave the barn to graze on this September morning. The animal moves slowly. This cow has horns; Farmer John Arink wants animals to be natural. This is one of the characteristics of Arring’s working method. Many farmers dehorn cows.
Arink, together with his wife, son and daughter-in-law, owns an organic company in Leeuvelde in Achterhoek. They grow it for grains, fodder and bread sold at the farm store. There is a guest house in the courtyard. Of the 130 hectares owned by the company, the company has leased 90 hectares from Naturmonumenton.
Arink is on the advisory board of Caring Farmers, an organization that wants to show that agriculture can change. He has visited the president of this organization, Ruud Zanders. He is a poultry farmer. He is the founder and co-owner of Kipster, with branches in Venre and Beuningen. Gipster supplies Lidl with eggs, among other things, and feeds the animals with food scraps. The company is expanding the number of locations in the Netherlands and will open its first warehouse in the US in Indiana on October 14.
‘The direction we need to go’
Caring Farmers is a Sustainable 100 winner this year. “A positive sound in an angry world”, concludes the jury. Last year, Caring Farmers already secured fifth place. Ruud Zanders was once in the Standard 100, which ranked people (as of 2019) instead of citizen initiatives.
Concerned Farmers has only been around for three years. In early September, the organization met with mediator Johan Remkes in The Hague to discuss nitrogen issues. In July, Caring farmers engaged in Green Farmers’ 10-point plan to reform agriculture. It was presented to the Minister of Nature and Nitrogen, Christian van der Wall. “This is the direction we need to go,” she replied.
Concerned farmers make progress, says Zanders. “If there is something like a conversation about nitrogen with farmers’ organizations, we are also invited. When the ministry wants to know something about agriculture, it talks to LTO, the big farmers’ organization, but to us. That was not the case a year ago.
Arink is regularly invited to talk shows because of the tension over nitrogen and farmers’ roadblocks. “Telling your story is rewarding,” she says. “In general, not only the general public, but also providers, have little knowledge of what is going on. When I come on a TV show, I notice that many people think that the problems in agriculture don’t affect them. They continue as before. What those farmers are doing: Well, let’s see. That’s not how it works. The way we treat food, soil and water cannot continue like this. Something needs to be done and everyone will notice.
Agriculture is on the wrong track
The nitrogen problem is just one signal that farming in the Netherlands is headed in the wrong direction, says Zanders. “At a certain point, the financial economy has taken over our society. For agriculture, it’s about producing food as cheaply as possible at the expense of other core values. Farmers have to participate in this system. That’s why we now have problems with biodiversity, animal welfare and so on. A few farmers saw the problem and thought: I’m not a part of it. They’re doing it their way. John Arink was one of them for thirty years, I was only for ten.
A characteristic of Concerned Farmers is its openness. It is not a company of storm-troopers, but a company of practical farmers who do it their own way. One chooses the biological direction, the other is conventional, as it is called, but prefers to move towards circular agriculture. It’s a motley crew. “Anyone who wants to think about changing our food system is welcome,” Zanders said three years ago FaithAfter its establishment.
Now concerned farmers are considering increasing requirements. Zanders: “We are now looking at how farmers can justify their membership. Do they actually take action? My dream is to create a report every year showing how each farmer has progressed. How to do this is not yet clear. “We’re a startup,” he laughs.
“We’re a club where everyone is welcome. We don’t care where you stand as a farmer right now. As long as you subscribe to the basic principles and they’re firm: If you keep animals that make sense, you’re creating as much output as possible with as few inputs as fertilizer and pesticides. Within the social and ecological limits of our planet. We love circular farming that embraces nature.
“Of course, many farmers work organically, but many don’t. We don’t want to be an organization with only pioneers, we like to have diversity. One is almost there, to say, and the other is still working very intensively with 5000 pigs, and he sees that he wants to change farming, But he doesn’t know how. The latter should be accessible and also show what steps are taken every year. How to test it is difficult. We are still discussing it.”
Three hundred is a good start
Arink thinks the way concerned farmers are operating now is too precarious. That is one of the reasons why he is not a member. He fears that the way concerned farmers want to change agriculture is not moving fast enough. “But of course good things will happen. I want to help with that, that’s why I’m on the advisory board. I’m not happy with the current situation.”
Concerned Farmers gets a lot of attention from the press and politicians, but the Common Farmers organization, with 30,000 members, is a hundred times larger. There are also several organizations such as the Federation of Agro-ecological Farmers and Biohuis (Organic Farmers). “It’s not really a storm with membership,” says Arink. “But it’s very difficult for the majority of farmers to join and change. A big change is waiting for the whole society. It’s not easy, not many people are interested. I think there are still three hundred, that’s a good start.
Zanders adds: “Everyone can come up with the impossible. That’s why we show what’s possible. Are we doing everything right? No, I certainly don’t. Even if we choose solutions that we say won’t work in five years, we adapt. Anyway, we try and we are coming a long way in the right direction. John has a thriving business, Kipster is also doing well and we are going to expand. Other farmers can do the same, working in an inclusive way with nature.
Transforming agriculture is a social mission
“You can argue whether three hundred is too much or too little,” says the leader. “I’m happy with that. Three thousand consumers came forward and said they wanted us to do something, without us doing anything about it. We love it. Agriculture has become so disconnected from society and vice versa. The task of transforming agriculture is not only a farmer’s task, but also a social task. Climate and farmers are connected. “Healthy food is a priority for everyone, I think. Healthy food, clean water, beautiful landscapes, biodiversity; these things affect farmers and are important to society as a whole. So it’s good for everyone to participate and see that there are solutions.”
Arink: “Ministry can remove anger among farmers by using 25 billion euros to help farmers relocate. We show that the possibilities exist.
Jury member Eric Lu: “We show how it can be done sustainably. They also focus on systemic change in agriculture with different policy proposals.
Find all the stories and background on the Sustainable 100 of 2022 here.
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