Sprint 1: Conditions

Exploring the pre-prototype phase and its required building blocks
Here you can find our latest updates on the sprints which are part of the Regenerative Agriculture intervention. We aim to develop a simple open free web app with and for farmers to quantify, value and visualise their climate impact when adopting and/or practicing regenerative farming methods.

The goal of Sprint 1

The goal of Sprint 1 was to underscore the building blocks needed for the development of the App prototype. Within our work sessions we also called this the pre-prototype phase. The outcome is a detailed visualisation of the interface of the app.

A back to Life strategical approach and the unifying ‘carbon proxy’

We can summarise our intervention’s aim with this simple but elegant sentence: “Bringing Agriculture and Food back to Life”(Hawken, P., 2021). This final ‘big’ dot on the horizon comprises different layers of principles, practices and indicators that support this transition. We can look at these principles, practices and indicators as if they were decomposable parts that comprise quantitative and qualitative factors. The main task of the past working sessions has been to depict the main ‘contributors’ that support the main aim of bringing food and agriculture back to life. Ideally, in the app there would be one unifying ‘back to life’ score, which we have coined as the carbon proxy. The carbon proxy is unifying all the most important variables and is therefore the ‘Representator’ of the main aim. The carbon proxy of course will tell us mainly something about the amount of carbon stored in the soil. At the same time other assessment categories like biodiversity and well-being are definitely included, either in a direct way or in a causative indirect one. The causative indirect one relies on the fact that regenerative agriculture uses soil as the entry point to regenerate. Once you concentrate on enhancing soil function all the other beneficial factors will just role in a cause-and-effect manner and contribute to the main aim; and this will be multidirectional, that is how regeneration works. The latter is also true if we distinguish where the starting point should be if we look at this challenge from a lens based on ecosystem services and their categorisation (supporting, provisioning, regulating and cultural).

Principles & Practices

During this sprint we have been focusing on uncovering the different streams of regenerative agriculture, how they arose and how the terminology has been used in different contexts. Also we have tried to understand which practices are used in which streams. ReNature provides a detailed and comprehensive review on this. There are 5 lineages of regenerative agriculture to be distinguished plus of course all the indigenous knowledge around the world. The Rodale Institute and Permaculture are two of these lineages. In terms of practices, the Rodale Institute, which is the result of a 40-year-tested conservation farming, includes regenerative practices like cover cropping, crop rotation, the usage of compost and no-till. It is also driven by the 7 so called tendencies, the 7 P’s, which serve as guiding principles: Pluralism, Protection, Purity, Permanence, Peace, Potential and Progress. Permaculture, also uses a holistic approach in which farms are designed while including practices like agroforestry, water planning, soil building, holistic livestock. During our search we tried to narrow down regenerative practices tailored to a more local context. This also combined with the practices that some of the dutch pioneers in regenerative agriculture are practicing at the moment gave us the following shortlisting:

When choosing which ecosystem services one should focus on first, in order to enhance regenerative outcomes on the land, our thought process was that since everything starts with soil health, one should focus on enhancing the supportive ecosystem services first, like soilbuilding, biodiveristy and habitat. When these ecosystem services will be enhanced, all the other ecosystem services, like the regulating ones and the cultural ones will also be enhanced. 

(Image Source: Aarhus University) Ecosystem Services_Arrows show the ecosystem services that strategically one should first focus on when transitioning to regenerative practices on the land. Starting from the supporting ecosystem services, like soilbuilding, biodiversity and habitat. Then other ecosystem services will automatically follow, like pollination and education.

Agriculture in Gelderland

The agricultural sector is very important to Gelderland and to its inhabitants. More than half of the land in the Province is used for agriculture.  

Farming Data Gelderland

At the end of 2021, Gelderland was home to 8.757 agricultural businesses, as compared to 52.114 in the Netherlands as a whole (CBS, 2021). This is about 100 less compared to 2020, and 3.500 less compared to 2010. This declining trend is the strongest in the Province of Gelderland (BoerenBusiness, 2015) and is likely caused by an increasing lack of business successors for (especially small) farms in the Netherlands (CBS, 2021). The total surface area used for cultivated land (land used for agricultural purposes) in Gelderland is 22.5400 ha, of the total surface area of 51.3700 ha (CBS, 2021). As can be seen in the figure below, in 2020, Gelderland counted 2219 arable farms, 1370 open-field horticulture farms, 373 greenhouse horticulture farms, and 7713 grassland and green fodder farms (CBS, 2021). Specifically, there were 725 potato farms, 1366 cereal farms (wheat, barley, rye, oats), 334 sugar beet farms, 141 vegetable farms (kale, peas, celeriac, beetroot, salsify, spinach), 1935 beef production farms, 2996 dairy farms, 801 pig farms, and 431 chicken farms. SKAL (Stichting Ekomerk Controle) announced in 2016 that Gelderland is the province with the most organically certified agricultural companies (SKAL, 2016). In 2020, this number is 350 farms, and is expected to grow strongly in the following years (CBS, 2021).  

Breakdown of Agricultural Companies in Gelderland (left) and nationally (right)
(CBS, 2021)

As part of the green transition, agricultural companies in the Netherlands are expanding and diversifying their activities (CBS, 2020). In Gelderland, this trend is very apparent (CBS, 2020). Popular extension activities are doorstep (B2C) sales, educational workshops, agrotourism, storage of goods or animals, self-processing of raw product, and energy production and supply to third parties. 

Land Systems Gelderland

The Basiskaart Natuurlijk Systeem Nederland shows that Gelderland as a province consists mainly of cover sand, lateral moraine, river terrace, and river area (See picture below; Maas, Kosian & Grond, 2021). 

The Natural Land Systems in the Netherlands (Maas, Kosian & Grond, 2021)

Maps from the BROloket: Basisregistratie Ondergrond (2019) effectively visualize the soil type and geomorphology of Gelderland. The different archeological landscape zones of Gelderland can be seen in this map by Rensink et al. (2019). This map shows the different categories of land use in Gelderland and distinguishes between arable (crop) land, fallow, grassland, and nature land (ArcGIS, 2021). The Klimaatmonitor is a dashboard developed by the Dutch government that shows recent agricultural data on Gelderland (as well as on the other provinces) to visualize the ongoing progress of reaching their climate targets (Klimaat Monitor, 2021). Its main purpose is to monitor the decentralised energy transition, providing local and regional authorities with monitoring information. 

Ongoing Regenerative Farming Initiatives

National Farming Initiatives

On a national level, there are a couple of initiatives and programs that shape the agricultural system in the Netherlands (see illustration above). The largest ones are listed here.

Ongoing Farming Initiatives in the Netherlands Shaping the Agricultural System of Tomorrow

The Boer Bewust (Conscious Farming) program was set up in 2016 to increase awareness and understanding for farmers and agricultural practices (Boer Bewust). Similarly, the Farmer Friendly Certification by the Farmers Defence Force aims to improve the financial outlook for Dutch farmers (FDF). Lastly, the Boer zoekt Boer initiative by NAJK (the Dutch Agricultural Youth Contact) aims to find farmer successors (NAJK). The Delta Plan Biodiversity from Samen voor Biodiversiteit furthermore focuses on three work routes: Nature, Agriculture and Public Space (Samen Voor Diversiteit). Then there is the Biodiversiteit Monitor, an 2017 initiative by FrieslandCampina, Rabobank and the WWF that aims to restore biodiversity in Dutch dairy farming from various perspectives. The basic principles here are that revenue models must be developed in the chain and that performance must be measurable (Biodiversiteit Monitor, 2018). In the Duurzame Zuivelketen, dairy companies and dairy farmers strive together for a future-proof and responsible dairy sector (Duurzame Zuivelketen). In collaboration with NMV and NAJK, they aim for safe working conditions, good income, high quality food, animal welfare and environmental sustainability through measurable goals set for 2030. Then there is Herenboeren and CSA Netwerk Nederland (CSA: Community-Supported Agriculture), two agriculture-associated initiatives aimed at increasing farmer-citizen connectedness. 

The government’s recent vision for agriculture named Landbouw, natuur en voedsel: waardevol en verbonden (translation: agriculture, nature, and food: valuable and connected)  furthermore envisages a transition to circular agriculture (Rijksoverheid, 2020). In 2022, the CAP, the Common Agricultural Policy in Europe (GLB in Dutch) will enter a new period. This calls for more attention to greening and social entrepreneurship. The Gelderse initiatives VALA and others will start with pilot projects to experiment with this in 2022 (RVO, 2021). 

Gelderland Farming Initiatives

In Gelderland specifically, there are already various programs that align in some way with regenerative farming. The largest ones are listed below.

Ongoing Farming Initiatives in Gelderland Shaping the Agricultural System of Tomorrow

In 2016, the Short Chains (Korte Keten) initiative by the Gelders Kennisnetwerk Voedsel launched with the goal to increase connectivity, lower transport costs, and to achieve a fairer price for farmers in Gelderland (GKV, 2021). It is one of the steps that the province considers important in the transition towards more sustainable farming and novel earning models for agricultural entrepreneurs. The province aims to double the number of short chains among Gelderse farmers by 2023. See here the list of Short Chains projects that are currently implemented in the province. Part of this plan is the sale of agricultural products under a new, Short Chain label in various supermarkets (Jumbo, Spar, Plus). 

To encourage farmers to start implementing regenerative practices, since 2019, the VALA (Vereniging Agrarisch Landschap Achterhoek) is offering educative workshops, excursions and courses about nature inclusive agriculture in collaboration with Collectief Rivierenland in Gelderland: Biodiversiteit met Boeren Wijsheid. There are four main themes: meadow bird management, grassland management, field management, soil improvement (VALA, 2019).

Regarding biodiversity, the Province of Gelderland started supporting an action plan to protect field- and meadow bird species, called Actieplan Akker- en Weidevogels by Natuur & Milieu Gelderland in 2016. The plan enables the implementation of applied management and design, strengthens education and research, and provides information. In addition to the existing budgets, Gelderland has put 1.5 million euros into this project (Natuur & Milieu Gelderland). The Stichting Agro Ecologie Gelderland aims at increasing awareness for regenerative practices. The Vruchtbare Kringloop Achterhoek (VKA) wants to inspire and facilitate agricultural entrepreneurs in creating opportunities to make their businesses more sustainable and prepare them for the future in terms of operating results, environmental quality, water management and soil fertility (VKA). VKA works together with stakeholders such as LTO, the Planbureau voor de Leefomgeving, and the province of Gelderland. VKA is the contact point for the Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality (LNV) as an innovation region and was commissioned to explore a new steering model for sustainable agriculture. VKA provides building blocks for new policy, and tests new policy intentions in practice.  

Nature Inclusive Agriculture

Lastly, this year (2021), the Province of Gelderland has set up the Nature Inclusive Farming platform (Natuur Inclusieve Landbouw). Nature inclusive farming is defined as “an economically profitable agricultural system, which integrates optimal management of natural resources in sustainable business operations, including care for ecological functions and biodiversity on and around the farm” (Wageningen University, 2016). It refers to a circular way of farming with attention to nature and landscape. See here how Wageningen University has nicely visualized nature inclusive farming. In addition, Staatsbosbeheer defines nature inclusive farming under 5 aspects for a farmer to work on: 

      1. Sustainable use of natural nutrients (less concentrate and fertilizer);
      2. No or very limited use of pesticides and medicines;
      3. Healthy soil life;
      4. Biodiversity on the farm; 
      5. Eye for the landscape that fits in with the region.

Examples of this are herb-rich ditch banks, flowery lawns, nature-rich field margins and landscape elements such as hedgerows, trees and ponds (Staatsbosbeheer).

Ecosystem services in conventional agricultural (left) and nature-inclusive agriculture (right), derived from WUR, 2016

The Nature Inclusive Farming Platform action plan entails a set of guidelines to improve the vitality of the countryside in Gelderland, the restoration of biodiversity and circular agriculture. To achieve their goals for 2030, new earning models are encouraged to make it attractive to do business in an environmentally friendly way. Also, good quality of the soil, water and air needs to be ensured, and local landscapes should become more attractive and vital, so that biodiversity can increase again. The plans are created by, and in collaboration with a variety of stakeholders, such as the province of Gelderland, the Forestry Commission (Staatsbosbeheer), municipalities, water boards, and educational institutions. The action plan for Nature Inclusive Farming can be seen as an elaboration of the national Delta Plan Biodiversity (see above). See here a  list of the projects in Gelderland listed on the website of the Nature Inclusive Farming Platform. 

The Nature Inclusive Farming Platform action plan entails a set of guidelines to improve the vitality of the countryside in Gelderland, the restoration of biodiversity and circular agriculture. To achieve their goals for 2030, new earning models are encouraged to make it attractive to do business in an environmentally friendly way. Also, good quality of the soil, water and air needs to be ensured, and local landscapes should become more attractive and vital, so that biodiversity can increase again. The plans are created by, and in collaboration with a variety of stakeholders, such as the province of Gelderland, the Forestry Commission (Staatsbosbeheer), municipalities, water boards, and educational institutions. The action plan for Nature Inclusive Farming can be seen as an elaboration of the national Delta Plan Biodiversity (see above). See here a  list of the projects in Gelderland listed on the website of the Nature Inclusive Farming Platform. 

Note: Climate Cleanup encourages building upon already existing tools and methodologies to optimize resource efficiency, and therefore makes use of, for example, the regenerative agriculture program developed by Climate Farmers. Despite that Climate Cleanup speaks of regenerative agriculture with the end goal to live in harmony with nature, it will use nature-inclusive in its communication in this project. This is because of the already set up plans in Gelderland within the Nature Inclusive Agriculture framework, as well as the local, and cultural acceptance of this term. After all, nature-inclusive falls under regeneration

In line with these initiatives, the province of Gelderland has already commissioned Drawdown Europe to provide a set of scalable climate solutions as an addition to help further achieve their climate (basic, RES, and intensification package) targets for 2030 (Gelderland, 2019; Drawdown Europe, 2020). One example of a regenerative farm pioneer in Gelderland is the farm Bodemzicht in Malden (Bodemzicht).

Gelders Klimaatplan 2021-2030

In 2017 the CO₂ emissions from agriculture and land use in Gelderland were 4.7 Mton CO2-eq, mainly from methane and nitrous oxide. By 2030, according to the Gelders Klimaatplan 2021-2030,  they want to reduce these emissions by 1.9 Mton CO2-eq.

The top 3 measures for agriculture and land use are:

  • Nature inclusive circular agriculture 
  • Carbon sequestration in the soil 
  • Expansion of forestry areas

To achieve this by 2030, they focus on encouraging nature-inclusive circular agriculture, on emission reduction in livestock farming, on sustainable manure production and use, on more forests, on less food wastage, on making greenhouse farming more sustainable, on less meat and dairy consumption, on more plant protein production (protein transition), and on sequestering carbon in agricultural land for soil improvement.

    Prototyping the application

    During this sprint we have been developing app prototypes to explore ways of communicating the wide and varied benefits of regenerative agriculture to different users from our stakeholder groupings whilst at the same time presenting a simple way for farmers to value and sell the carbon stored on their land.

    We are currently working on three app prototypes to answer the following questions:

    • What is the value of my carbon crop?
    • How well is my carbon crop growing?
    • How will I sell my carbon certificates?

    Prototype 1: What is the value of my carbon crop?

    We wish to make a simple application to quickly allow our stakeholders to see the carbon storage potential of any piece of agricultural land in the province of Gelderland.

    This quantifying exercise will allow us to communicate the amount of carbon that could be stored per hectare, which agricultural practices are associated with higher sustainable carbon yields and which ecosystem services are most benefited.

    In this prototype we are aiming to:

    • Allow the user to look at the carbon problem from the farmers perspective  
    • Allow the user to easily find and click on any parcel of land in Gelderland to get basic information
    • Allow the user to simulate farm management choices and see the effect these have on: 
      • Carbon removal
      • Ecosystem services (incl. Biodiversity, Human Wellbeing, Climate regulation)
      • Financial return

    GIS and data layering

    To make any kind meaningful comparison of agricultural practices related to carbon farming in Gelderland we will need to collate existing data from various sources into one single interface.  We can then present these data layers in a visual way. 

      Layer 0 – The base map

      The basemap gives geographic information as well as indications of elevation, waterways, roads and access. The base map we have chosen is the OpenTopo Map. This will allow the user to locate basic geographic areas.

      Layer 1 – Soil Type

      As many of the practices that improve carbon sequestration depend heavily on soil type it is vital to include this data layer. We will be using the during the next sprint we will be looking at the effect of the local soil types in Gelderland on carbon sequestration rates.

      Layer 2 – Land use

      The land use data layer allows us to separate each individual parcel of land in the province and access basic information about the size of the parcel and its destined use. The BRP Crop plots map consists of the location of agricultural plots with the crop being grown linked to it. The boundaries of the agricultural plots are based on the Agricultural Area of ​​the Netherlands (AAN). 

       

      Layer 3 – Estimated Carbon Stock

      There are several sources of data which use different methods to model carbon stocks on agricultural land. If we can get a baseline carbon stock value and subtract it from the soils organic carbon saturation limit then we can use that value to ascertain how much ‘space’ is left for carbon sequestration on that particular parcel of land.

      Layer 4 – Projected soil saturation limit

      The soil saturation limit is an important factor when making the business case for carbon farming. Having a clear understanding of how much carbon can realistically be stored on any piece of land lends credibility to an already complex calculation. We can use the saturation limit to show the maximum possible tons per hectare of soil organic carbon.

      Layer 5 – Carbon sequestration rate via regenerative agricultural practices

      Once we have defined the physical conditions and potential for each parcel of land then we will need to model different regenerative practices and their combined effects on nature based carbon sequestration and storage. With this final data layer we can quantify the total carbon potential and which practices can be used to achieve that.

      Change in soil organic C (tonnes C ha−1) between no-till and full tillage management across depths from 0 to 80 cm over 20 years:

      Designing the interface

      Co-designing and brainstorming sessions:

       

       

      Dashboard design

      As we can see in the illustration of the app dashboard below, Natuur-inclusieve landbouw can be seen to impact the ecosystem services that are otherwise neglected in the conventional agricultural system. In the app, every time you click on one of these ecosystem services – one of the petal of the 6-petals flower – you can see a window popping up that shows the following information: how the list of regenerative practices relates to this particular ecosystem service. Then you can see that by adopting one or more of these practices the area of the petal becomes bigger for instance. At the same time you can also see the carbon proxy (the Basic carbon info) becoming bigger. 

      Sprint 2: Next Steps

      During the next sprint we will further develop the user interface for the app and link it to the datasets to make a clickable demo. We will also begin to edit the information about regenerative agriculture practices that will appear in the app and explore ways in which we can visualize the impact in a meaningful way. We will also begin to assess the methodologies for defining assessment indicator for each ecosystem service.