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Who should pay for changed cultivation methods for future agriculture practices?

A new EU project will answer this question in collaboration with six different testing grounds, including Peters Gartneri near Beder in East Jutland, Denmark.

Photo: SoilValues

Peter Kirk-Haugstrup is an organic farmer, but calls himself a soil cultivator. He grows many different crops next to each other in a rolling crop rotation with mixed crops in soil that is not ploughed. And he's not the only one experimenting with new and modified farming methods. In a new EU project, researchers from the Department of Agroecology at Aarhus University, among others, will establish six different "testing grounds", one of which is Peters Gartneri. The idea behind the project is to investigate new business models and cultivation methods that can help secure future food production and at the same time create the environmental and climate effects that society is looking for. But who should pay? As it stands now, farmers have no financial incentive to change cultivation methods or business plans to achieve more sustainable production.

EU project will explore new business models for the future of agriculture

This is a problem the EU wants to do something about. Therefore, they have, among other things, provided funding to the Department of Agroecology at Aarhus University for the SoilValues project. Aarhus University is part of a consortium that also includes 10 other partners, including two universities from Belgium, one from Poland and one from the Netherlands. Together, they will map and analyse soil-friendly farms in Denmark and five other EU countries. In addition, a handful of industry organisations and a single investment company are participating. 

The SoilValues project will investigate the economics of farmers who cultivate their land according to conservation agriculture principles, like Peter Kirk-Haugstrup. Over the next two to three years, the researchers will study the farmers' different business models and see how they work and whether they can be up-scaled, and ultimately send a series of recommendations back to the EU and the decision-makers who hold the future agricultural legislation in their hands. 

Peters Gartneri's customer-farmers participate in the study

One of the first farms to be focused on by the researchers is Peters Gartneri. 

"We will take a closer look at Peter Kirk-Haugstrup's customer-farmer scheme, which 100 citizens have signed up for this year," says Associate Professor Martin Thorsøe from the Department of Agroecology. 

The scheme is based on a 10-month subscription - from May to February. Subscribers prepay for all 10 months. This helps to give the farmer liquidity while the crops are being established. Each subscriber is called a customer-farmer, and as customer-farmer, you co-own the harvest and share the risk from weather and other unforeseen events. From May to November, customer farmers can harvest Peter Kirk-Haugstrup's almost 100 different vegetables and herbs for their own consumption. During the winter months, potatoes and roots are harvested from the winter storage and overwintering crops such as leeks and cabbage from the fields. When the customer-farmers harvest for themselves, the farmer saves on harvesting, washing, packing and transport costs. 

"We are so lucky that we have been given the opportunity to ask the 100 new customers why they have chosen to become customer-farmers and what they expect from the scheme," says research assistant Kasper Krabbe from the Department of Agroecology. He is responsible for the first questionnaire sent to the customer-farmers. 

"In a year's time, we will follow up on how their experience has been and whether they expect to continue," he says. 

Already in August, the first results of the project will be presented at the Mariendal Festival. 

Soil health through value-based business models

Peters Gartneri is one of SoilValue's six testing grounds. And just like at Peter Kirk-Haugstrups farm, the other five testing grounds will assess and refine new business models for soil health. The plan is to involve local communities, farmers, investors and decision-makers so that the business models are both effective and practical in real-life scenarios.

In addition, the SoilValues project will foster collaboration through the formation of 12 communities of practice. These communities will serve as platforms for knowledge sharing and exchange between different stakeholders involved in soil health management. By fostering dialogue and collaboration, the project aims to bridge the gap between different sectors and promote solutions that better take soil health into account.

A key outcome of the SoilValues project will be the development of a toolbox consisting of incentives and policy recommendations. This toolkit will provide valuable resources and guidelines to promote and incentivise practices that improve soil health. By utilising these tools, decision-makers and stakeholders can make informed decisions and adopt policies that drive positive change in soil management.


External collaborators Partners: Aarhus University, KU Leuven, Association of Balkan Eco-Innovation, Consultoria Agroinditrial, European Landowners' Organisation, Forest and Landowners Association of Lithuania, Flanders Research for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Institute for Agri-Food Technology and Infrastructures of Navarra, The Polish Academy of Sciences, KOIS Invest, MR F&A Consult CommV, Thünen Institute and Wageningen University.
External funding The SoilValues project is funded by EU Grant Agreement: 101091308
Other Everyone quoted in this article has had the opportunity to read and comment on their own quotes. 
Read more You can read much more about the SoilValues project here. If you want to know more about the customer farmer scheme at Peters Gartneri, you can read about it here
Contact information

Research Assistant Kasper Krabbe, Department of Agroecology, Aarhus University. Phone: +45 93521407 or email: kask@agro.au.dk