Western Peat Meadows, the Netherlands
Total area (ha)
700 (farmers, businesses and other stakeholders)
Business cases identified or set up
To the visitor, the Dutch Western Peat Meadows appear watery, green and full of migratory bird life. Yet intensification of farming and systemic drainage are simultaneously reducing biodiversity while placing adverse pressure on farmers’ income.
Since 2016, Commonland and Natuurmonumenten have been exploring and implementing ways to apply the 4 Returns as a solution to these interrelated issues that led to the foundation of 4 Returns landscape partner Wij.land in 2019.
With a network of farmers, nature organisations, companies, and citizens, our landscape partner Wij.land inspires, facilitates, and accelerates the transition to a 4 Returns landscape. One in which farmers care for soil and nature; healthy, local food is produced, and major challenges, such as reducing nitrogen and greenhouse gas emissions, are addressed. It does this by focusing on three components: sustainable farming, sustainable income, and community and inspiration.
What happened in 2021?
In 2021, Wij.land’s network grew from 80 to 160 active farmers, with land covering more than 1600 ha. This means more farmers are joining Wij.land’s journey to realise sustainable farming practices such as soil health and grassland quality, improving sustainable business models while promoting inspiration and community.
Herb-rich grassland – containing plantain, chamomile and chicory – improves soil structure, builds soil health and increases water retention. Moreover cattle are better fed leading to a higher quality of milk. Last year, twenty new Wij.land farmers began sowing herb-rich grassland. Their learnings are shared via video and practice guides.
In further good news for soil quality, Wij.land this year supported eighteen farmers with their worm compost tea to organically improve the health of their soil. Worm compost is intensely rich in micro-organisms and elements needed for healthy plant growth.
Wij.land’s inspiration-focused projects fire up awareness and motivation for regenerative land use across the landscape. At a total of 42 gatherings throughout the year, Wij.land inspired farmers, citizens and policy makers to work towards healthier landscapes. Meanwhile, twenty innovative business solutions competed for the Wij.land Innovation contest, with a local-produce (‘Short-chain’) vending machine named as winner, stocked with local regenerative products placed in busy urban areas. Other incentive prizes were also successful: for example, the first food swamp was created in The Hague, a permaculture concept for wet soils.
Wij.land’s Inspiration cycling route that passed through ten farms using QR codes to share the story of their regenerative work. Farm tours, workshops and artworks further spread inspiration for farmers’ practices. Online cyclists are also welcome to take the tour.
Generating revenue from sustainable farming
Wij.land has distinguished three levels of business development: farm level business case; product chain that reaches the consumer; and ‘ecosystem’ services and financial instruments. You can see examples of the first two of these above, and the third below.
Aardpeer, Samen voor grond launched successfully with a commitment to increase the number of farmers working the soil naturally in order to preserve biodiversity. The initiative of Wij.land, Stichting BD Grondbeheer, and Herenboeren raised €7.3 million to buy land through a Together-for-Land bond. This land has now been leased to five regenerative farmers. The Dutch newspaper Trouw awarded Aardpeer sixth place in its top 100 sustainable initiatives.
Boerenwijzer and Mijn.Wij.land, developed a sustainability and key performance indicator (KPI) framework for regenerative dairy farming and developed software to track and monitor progress along this framework. It therefore functions as an instrument for the regenerative transition of farmers. Both instruments will become central to Wij.land’s work in the coming years.
1 million+ people inspired, 70 farmers participated in the initiative, 70 inspiring videos on regenerative practices.
1,000 ha under improved management practices, plus 250 ha of natural zones improved.
Regenerative dairy farming pays its way
While the ecological case for nature-inclusive farming is well made, transitioning from conventional methods is often perceived as an economic risk. This is why Wij.land worked with NatuurVerdubbelaars and Alan accountants, to research the real costs and benefits of regenerative, nature inclusive dairy farming. The result? It pays off.
The regenerative farms studied were found to have equal or higher incomes than the national average. This is because nature-inclusive farmers have fewer costs and lower vet bills. Meanwhile their milk, although selling in lower volumes, fetches a higher price.
Every company looked at had a different recipe for success. The research did not point to any one indicator that could be implemented across the board. Instead, it showed the importance of adjusting to the environment, being creative in seeking out opportunities, making good choices, and craftsmanship.
What we learned was shared during a well-attended webinar which gained attention in the agricultural press.