Fruitful Cycle Achterhoek and Liemers grew in eight years into a learning network for three hundred farmers. Now there is a new course. ‘We want farms to remain in Achterhoek, to be able to earn and be accepted and valued’, says board member Stefan te Selle.
Dairy farmer Stefan te Selle from Huppel in Gelderland produces 1.3 million kilos of milk annually with 120 cows. “We have 75 young cattle and 70 hectares of land under cultivation. The total inventory contains 58 acres. So on paper, we are more intensive than in reality. Our fields are small and remote. Farming in this small Achterhoek landscape is beautiful, but it also presents challenges, ‘he says.
On the one hand you are very controlled, but on the other hand you are very much against
Stefan te Selle, board member of Fertile Cycle Achterhoek and Liemers
Did you therefore become a member of Vruchtbare Kringloop Achterhoek en Liemers (VKA)?
‘Yes, I would like to know how to tackle certain challenges and further optimize the mineral cycle. I started studying herbaceous grasslands. That is why I became a member of VKA in 2018. You get a lot of information there. The great thing is that you stay close to the base, ie to the company.
»Technical issues are elaborated at company level, often with the help of knowledge partners. The knowledge gained is shared again with the rest of the members, and we regularly look at another behind the barn door. It works great: You always get a clear and honest story from the farmer. This does not work, it works. No commercial talk. ‘
Since when have you been on the board?
‘VKA continued in 2020 as an independent association. I’ve been on the board ever since. The members are of all ages and have different businesses. We will not quickly think or say: it is not possible. We are always looking for what is possible, preferably in a fun way.
‘One third of the dairy farmers in Achterhoek and Liemerse, about three hundred, are affiliated with us. Also wage workers. In fact, all landowners are welcome, for cooperation is paramount. The Achterhoeker easily opens itself and the company to others. There have been many cooperatives here since time immemorial. Together you achieve more than alone. ‘
Recently a new course was taken?
“Previously, we at VKA worked primarily with data from Kringloopwijzer, but we noticed that other themes were also at stake among the members. On your own farm, it is quite easy to turn on the service and adjust things, but as a farmer you also have contact with the chain and the citizen. It is becoming increasingly important. How do you handle it? How do you handle it?
‘We saw a dichotomy between improving the company and innovative thinking as an entrepreneur. That is why we have developed four new themes, or cycles, which we are now working on. ‘
What do these cycles mean?
‘Ecology, efficiency, innovative entrepreneurship and society. In April, there was an inspiration meeting where these cycles were discussed with members and partners. Experts who want to work with us on these themes in the coming years shared their views and ideas. With this, we hope to have inspired people to get started with it themselves. It is best to be stimulated a little. It’s good to pull someone out of the existing pattern.
»The ecology and the return cycle have to do with making improvements in one’s own company. The associated entrepreneurs have already achieved good results in the field, but there is still room for improvement. For example, we would like to seek more cooperation with the field farmers. They also have to deal with, for example, groundwater inventories, but they do not yet have a tool like Kringloopwijzer to visualize this per company.
“That collaboration is already there with contractors. The sector saw the task from different laws and regulations and has contributed by responding to this with innovative machines. An example is sowing in maize. ‘
What do you think of when you think of innovative entrepreneurship?
“It could be, for example, the integration of nature-inclusive agriculture or the sale of houses. The most important thing is that it is something that really gives you energy. The project ‘Nature-inclusive agriculture’ fits in well with the wishes of some of our members. Eighty companies are participating. There are different entry levels. A number of companies have made a nature plan and obtained a certificate, with which they can now rent land from Staatsbosbeheer ‘.
What is the biggest challenge for the future?
‘It’s probably in the fourth cycle: society. We strive to keep farms in Achterhoek and Liemers that can earn a living and are accepted but also valued. This requires connection with society. Not only among the citizens, but also among politicians.
»Although we have good contacts with the Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality and are an innovation region, in practice it is often disappointing what resources and room for maneuver there are in the policy for implementing innovations. In fact, we get policies strewn about how common sense has been lacking in making them. An example is the lack of dispensation so far, while the water quality on the dispensation farms is often in good order. ‘
What needs to be done to make agriculture better and easier?
‘Agricultural policy must remain feasible, or rather become feasible again. On the one hand, you as a farmer are strongly controlled, but on the other hand, you are very much against it. The government is intervening at farm and even parcel level. It shows distrust, while there must be trust in the entrepreneurs. I dare say that with our sector we are not where we are now, despite but thanks to government intervention. ‘
From project to farmers’ association
Fruitful Cycle Achterhoek en Liemers (VKA) started in 2014 as a project on the initiative of, among others, LTO Noord and the water council Rijn en IJssel. With Kringloopwijzer at the bottom, VKA works on sustainability, improving soil and water quality, better utilization of nutrients and showing what you do. Knowledge groups learn from each other and from advisors. As a result, Achterhoek has been put on the map as an innovation region and is now a regional, national and European leader in this field. In 2020, the project basis was released and VKA continued as a farmers’ association. The young club is supported by a practice leader and likes to describe itself as a ‘learning network’ with the ambition to learn during meetings, develop knowledge during projects and share knowledge. VKA has been assisted from the start by partners such as ForFarmers, FrieslandCampina, Vitens, Rijn en IJssel water council, Rabobank, Countus, Eurofins, the province of Gelderland, Achterhoek Ambassadors, LTO Noord, Groeikracht, Dumea Agro and AgruniekRijnvallei.