Testing gardens Mineral Valley Twente, a breeding ground for innovation

The earth is close to being depleted, and we need to stop taking more than what we give. Minister Carola Schouten has designated Twente to host experiments regarding circular agriculture, which offers great options for restoration. Mineral Valley is overseeing this mission, and they are researching solutions that contribute to having healthy soil, sustainable fertilisation and other applications for manure and biomass. They do this in so-called testing gardens. There are now more than 20 testing gardens in which farmers, suppliers, knowledge institutions, governments and social institutions work on innovations for the agricultural sector, together. Read on below for more about recent innovations in these testing gardens.  

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In short

  • Minister Schouten has designated Twente to host experiments regarding circular agriculture, which should contribute to having healthy soil.
  • Mineral Valley is overseeing this mission and is in charge of several different testing gardens, where they work on sustainable innovations for agriculture.
  • Innovative farmers from Twente come up with solutions for the future. 

Pioneers from Twente

The way we produce our food causes so much environmental degradation that the earth will be depleted if we continue like this. It is bad for both the environment and the human population. “We are taking more than what the earth can give”, says Minister Schouten in her vision on agriculture. “We must not deplete our soil, water and resources, and we should avoid raising the temperature on earth much further.” Circular agriculture and sustainable inventions in agriculture are vital for developing a sustainable food production system. We need a turnaround. The following farmers from Twente are setting great examples regarding the necessary developments. 

Proeftuinen
Precision farming by drones

On the 8th of January 2020, Minister Carola Schouten paid a work-visit to Twente. She took a look at dairy goat farm Veelers during this visit. They are participants in the testing garden on precision agriculture, where drones play an important role. They are investigating how the quality of the grass on a plot can be visualised in real-time and detail by using a special camera underneath a drone. The Borre brothers from Robor Electronics and the University of Twente are helping with this investigation. Farmers can accurately adjust fertilisation with the data from the drone, or they can take other measures for optimising the production. “We are developing an affordable system for farmers by using drones in combination with Artificial Intelligence. This way, they will have much better control of their grass production”, says Xander Borre. Minister Schouten pointed out that these testing garden show how far Twente has already come with techniques like these, and that it offers an incredible number of opportunities for the future of agriculture. The testing garden will be expanded in the coming years, with the support of the Ministry. 

Regionale voedselproductieketen

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Grass labs on verges

There are many grass verges along the roads and ditches in Twente and loads of clippings come from them every year. Removing and processing these “waste products” costs the municipalities quite a lot of money. However, these grass clippings contain valuable organic substances that are good for the soil. The agricultural sector can use this organic substance as a means to improve soil quality. In one of the testing gardens, called “Bermgraslab” (Verge grass lab), these two needs are linked. In here, farmers, contractors, municipalities and water boards use the grass clippings as a means to improve the soil on several test fields. Mineral Valley investigates the effect on the soil and the crop yield, and they are looking into all the possibilities. Grass clippings can be used for more things besides improving soil; they can be used for egg cartons and sheet piles, for example. 

Farmers from Noord-Deurningen turn manure into gold

Six farmers in Noord-Deurningen have joined forces and formed a cooperation: IJskoud. These farmers process the manure of their cows in mono-fermenters. This produces biogas and digestate, and it directly contributes to solving nitrogen problems. The farmers supply the biogas to a nearby nursery and factory. You can read more about this circular and sustainable way of generating energy here. This sustainable biogas has an additional positive; the digestate that remains after fermentation can be used as valuable fertiliser, for healthier soil. Another advantage of using digestate is that it comes directly from the farmer’s manure surplus, so less fertiliser has to be imported. This is better for the climate, nature, and the farmer. The effect of this digestate on the soil is being measured and investigated carefully, in collaboration with the farmers themselves. If we know the effects it has on the soil, we can determine whether or not it is possible to close the loop on your farm. 

Date: 27 May 2020