July 2016

 

Rationale

To make contact with, discuss and learn from some of best farmers in the Netherlands. Actively examining their farming techniques, finding out how they are now farming more sustainably whilst maintaining strong commercial relationships with their customers, whilst both securing supply chain resilience and continuing to maximise on farm profits.

 

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Sustainable Futures farmers were given a full tour at SPNA

 

The event

A group of 20 cereal farmers and supply chain partners visited the Netherlands for three days in early July. The Study Tour organised in partnership with our Dutch partners Stichting Veldleeuwerik (Skylark Foundation) visited a number of farms, an agricultural research centre and a highly regarded food manufacturing site that included a flour mill.

 

There was a great deal to learn from these visits, but equally with the touring farmers growing a significant area of cereals between them, there was a high level of information sharing between the two international groups.

Maintaining soil organic matter levels was clearly a priority on most farms we visited.

The use of a wide range of cover crops to create green manure, in conjunction with pig and cow slurry (which they are paid to take) was also part of their regular farming practices.

The farms we visited were well invested, technically efficient and actively utilising the latest precision farming equipment. By collaborating together, Skylark farmers have made good progress in improving sustainability and mitigating some of the impact of their intensive farming methods.

The farmers collaborate closely with supply chain partners such as Holland Malt and Heineken. They have been able to reduce waste in the supply chain, improve sustainability and by working with partners, lever their sustainability credentials to differentiate and add financial value to their finished products.
The SPNA Research Station we visited at Ebelsheerd has been focusing closely on Blackgrass control, a subject that plagues many of the UK farmers who took part in the visit.

Their research suggested that, one of the better ways to control Blackgrass was to cultivate behind the combine, effectively stimulating the germination of the blackgrass seeds. The blackgrass is then allowed to grow until late September when it is sprayed off with Glyphosate, effectively establishing a seed bed without ploughing.

 

Group Learning

One of the key findings from our visit to the Netherlands was that farming methods are certainly influenced by the very high cost of land.

The Dutch farm very intensively, growing potatoes and other root crops on a 1 in 4 rotation even on relatively heavy soils, with wheat and barley being grown as a break crops once in the rotation.

We identified that Dutch farmers work very closely with their key supply chain stakeholders, customers and logistics providers, but also local water companies. We learned that it is certainly possible to farm sustainably and intensively. It is made easier however, by working closely together, sharing technical knowledge and developing collaborative supply chains