Working together with Nature

By Jaimy Witbraad

Climate change is happening and the discussion around it takes many causative agents. With new policies on reducing CO2 emissions and a rising interest in vegan food, farmers need to change their ways. These ways lead to higher bills and many concerns for farmers. Luckily there is a solution: regenerative farming.

The origin of the current farming systems we work with lies in the 1940s. After the second world war, a technical revolution was set in motion in order to feed war sufferers. To be able to produce as much food as possible, pesticides and machines got used on a large scale. The system was supposed to be a short term solution for the problems but it resulted in new problems in the long run. In the 1950s researches from the ministry of agriculture found out that the system had a bad impact on the climate, but this didn’t stop farmers from using chemicals and machines on their fields. Research by CBS announced chemicals were used on 96,1% of Dutch agriculture in 2016. 

Last year, a documentary called ‘Kiss The Ground’, shed a different light on the problems of the farming industry. Instead of blaming farmers and telling people to eat less animal products, ‘Kiss The Ground’ showed a farming system in which farmers make more money out of their products, without destroying nature. This solution is called regenerative farming. 

Regenerative farming

Joost van Schie, a Dutch farmer who herds cows for cheese and meat, transitioned to regenerative farming a few years ago. He explains how healthy soil houses all kinds of organisms, like plants, birds, insects, bacteria and grazers. “Every organism produces waste and consumes food,” he says, “The beauty of nature is that it presents a cycle in which what is waste for the one is food for the other.” He explains that with regenerative farming you stimulate life to strengthen this cycle and ensure the soil is healthy. “Healthy soil is able to store CO2 and nitrogen, which is part of the climate change solution,” Joost says. 

The new system means Joost van Schie stopped with the use of fertilizer and pesticides, which kill life. He started using manure from his own herd, which stimulates life. This new way of farming keeps the soil as healthy as possible and is reinforcing biodiversity. Joost’s cows are 100% grass fed, therefore the production of grass is very important at his farm: “At first grass production got worse when we stopped using fertilizer on the fields.  But after a few years production went up again.” Joost now no longer depends on chemicals or technologies and works with nature only. 

According to ‘Kiss The Ground’, regenerative farming saves farmers money, because production will continue to perform without the use of expensive machines and chemicals. Joost explains that farmers are also able to ask an honest price for their products once they stop producing for the mass. “People are willing to pay a higher price when you ensure them the cows and nature are treated well,” he says. 

Sustainable system

Beside the discontinuation of chemicals, Joost does all kinds of activities to keep his fields regenerative. He planted herbs at the side of the meadow to attract bees and other insects. He never mows his grass so waders safely can lay their eggs in the high grass during breeding season. Joost also makes sure his soils have a balanced water retention. “In a perfect world, my soils hold water during a dry season and drain water during a wet season,” he explains, “I am now researching how I can achieve this.” Another important element of regenerative agriculture is managed grazing. Joost makes sure the herd of cows continually walk on a different part of the meadow. By doing so, the grassland benefits from the activity of the herds. Animals munch grasses to the crown, intermixing their urine and feces and disturb the soil with their hooves, without overloading it. 

Regenerative farming is a system which helps farmers to work completely circulair, without buying food for animals or manure for the fields. The system is sustainable, durable and takes a part in the battle against climate change as healthy soils store CO2 and nitrogen. Joost van Schie sees a future with regenerative farming on every farm. “In The Netherlands we have all the knowledge and experience to work in line with nature,” he says. “It is up to the consumers which products they choose.”