We need to see innovators as a full part of the agricultural sector.
Exactly one week ago, The New Farmer Family Day took place. Over 100 farmers and non-farmers came together, looking for inspiration and partners to realize new agriculture. The participants of the Farmers Accelerator - a program for agricultural entrepreneurs - set a living example in this by sharing their business practices and future-proof plans. Whereas the Farmers' Family humbly considered itself a niche until last week, Agriculture Minister Adema, who was present, decisively changed that: 'We must see innovators as a full-fledged part of the agricultural sector.'
Moreover, the minister states that this, the tone of The New Farm Family, is where we are headed: environment-sensitive farm businesses. Although efficient production will remain the starting point for a portion of farms, another portion of farmers will reinvent entrepreneurship. The Farmers' Accelerators show that many directions are possible in this; from a combination with child care, to hop production on the peat bogs of a former dairy farm, to complete conversion to regenerative agroforestry with an excellent and profitable long-term plan. Agricultural entrepreneurs may also consider producing biobased building materials as a serious opportunity. Stayers, shrinks and innovators together form a new standard of "farmer diversity," according to the minister.
The agricultural agreement should be supportive of this farmer diversity, and as mentioned, innovators need a full place in it. Therein lies an important challenge for the Ministry of Agriculture, which must use its knowledge, expertise and funding to bring about a change among the majority of farmers. Where politics and agriculture had a productive relationship in the past, there is now a distance between them. The dissolution of the Rural Area Service (DLG) in 2015 plays a role in this. The government department was involved in the "cohesive development" of the countryside and, Adema stressed, acted as an important communication channel between farmers and administrators. The agricultural sector is more market-driven than ever, which has meant that social and economic goals have diverged.
However much Adema is committed to free and innovative agricultural entrepreneurship, and however many successful, sustainable practical examples can be found in the Farmers' Family and related organizations, as long as Dutch water and land do not become cleaner, Brussels will continue to look over our shoulders. This is accompanied by "means steering," strict rules that determine the implementation by farmers, while Adema grants farmers more "goal steering" and thus more freedom of practice: master of their own yard.
More is needed
But the agricultural transition needs more than a good agricultural agreement, Minister Adema also knows. It is about all chain parties working together towards a new system that creates the preconditions for working earning models of environment-sensitive farms. A progressive attitude from banks, supermarkets and society is indispensable in this. For that reason, Rabobank will also have a strong presence at The New Farmers' Family Day. The brand new Food and Agri director, Alex Datema, tastes that the bank is willing to facilitate a new system. Adema's call to invest in frontrunners such as the Farmers Accelerators will certainly be heard by Datema, also present at the Farmers' Family Day. Anna van der Bijl, protein farmer(in) and project manager at Rabobank, is also eager to work with us (Food Hub) to pave the way for new revenue models, including with Food Forward.
From 14 to 14,000
As one of the founders of The New Family of Farmers, I realized last week at the table with Minister Piet Adema, Anna van der Bijl and Jonathan van der Geer, that it is time to dramatically increase the ambition of the Farmers Accelerator. Not 14 farmers a year, but as many as 14,000 change-makers or more should be able to turn to it for tailored support. There are also opportunities, broader than the Farmers Accelerator, to embed Smarter Together in education. So together, because we cannot do this alone; we are happy to work with organizations such as BoerenNatuur and Wij.land, as well as LTO and NAJK. These parties see the agricultural transition not as a question of less farming, but of more farming diversity.
In order to welcome or retrain a large group of "new" agricultural entrepreneurs, it is important that the agricultural agreement offers certainty and perspective, and is sufficiently substantial and multi-year oriented that chain parties dare to make the transition to a new system. Because switching from traditional agriculture to agroforestry, to take one example, by definition requires long-term vision and planning. After construction, it takes about 7 years before you can reap the benefits.
The New Family of Farmers brings together farmers and non-farmers: the inventor, the architect, the civil servant, the marketer, the chef, the banker, the lawyer, the designer. Together we search for feasible, logical and sustainable innovations in farming.
The Farmers Accelerator is a unique program for entrepreneurs in the agricultural sector who are looking for a future-proof earnings model. Participants get to work on their business and personal development, and work with experts from inside and outside the sector on innovation on their own farm. At the Farmers' Accelerator, you meet a group of like-minded people with diverse plans. This is where new ideas, collaborations and friendships are born.