Wageningen University & Research and the eco-labelling foundation Stichting Milieukeur, have studied the possibilities of sustainable soil management on leased lands. Because many farmlands in the Netherlands are deteriorating, the National Real Estate Agency (Dutch acronym: RVB) has commissioned this research. Minister Schouten (minister of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality) strives to sustainably manage all farming lands by 2030. The study is directed at gaining knowledge so that the lands leased by the state can be more sustainably managed.
The RVB, which is part of the Ministry of the Interior and Kingdom Relations, strives to meet the societal targets formulated in the coalition agreement through its management of farming lands, including safeguarding soil quality. The research conducted by WUR and the Stichting Milieukeur supports this.
The researchers offer a review of the indicators used to precisely describe the soil quality. They show what measures farmers can take to manage their farmland sustainably. Subsequently, they investigated what measures are legally permitted in the various leasing agreements between tenant en lessor that fall within the law. The researchers also recommend amending the leasing legislation to allow the inclusion of more extensive soil quality measures in newly drawn up contracts. However, the study revealed that not all could be contained within a leasing agreement. Thus, the researchers also offer suggestions towards more sustainable agricultural management to be included in generic laws and private legal contracts in addition to the leasing agreements.
Five measures that are already applicable
Five measures can be included in new leasing agreements within the current legislation:
- Use of organic or rough manure;
- Lower tyre pressure (below 1 bar) and wheel load (under 3 tonnes);
- Prescribing cover crops ;
- Use of organic pesticides;
- Active biological border management.
The researchers believe these adjustments do not require significant investment by the tenant and are expected to have sufficient legal foundation. Especially when combined, these measures could significantly improve soil quality.
Soil quality indicators
The research report shows a review of the various indices of quality criteria and possible measures. A first version of the ‘Soil indicators for farming lands in the Netherlands’ has been developed (Dutch acronym: BLN), that can be used to measure soil quality. This provides a basis for several parties working on an ‘Open source soil index’ (Dutch acronym: OBI), that is to be accessible to all farmers offers specific suggested measures based in the measured soil quality. These quality criteria and measures will be further finetuned and made available within the National farming soils programme (Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality)
Possibilities per lease type
The study shows that the possibilities to reach agreements on soil quality with the tenant differ with the type of lease. Short term, liberalised lease (maximum of six years) and long term lease offer the greatest freedom to make sustainability agreements. Within standard leasing agreements, the Agricultural Tenancies Authority allows little room for such stipulations.
It is recommended that lessors, and thus the state, of agricultural lands, stipulate what soil quality measures they wish to include in the lease immediately upon going to market. Interested farmers can then consider these measures when determining the lease they are willing to pay for the land. Lessors can also have model regulations assessed by the Agricultural Tenancies Authority to decide whether or not they fall within the law.
Let the tenant benefit from the value increase of the land
The expected increase in value that results from better farming soils should benefit the tenant, the researchers state. This may be reflected in the leasing fee, or by allowing the tenant to extend the lease privately. The researchers recommend that authorities acting on behalf of the state, such as the RVB, are also given these options.
Advice for the RVB
The National Real Estate Agency, that leases 41,000 hectares of government farmland is advised to put sustainable soil management into practice. This means that soil quality should be regularly analysed in consultation with the tenants and that measures are set with the tenants depending on the results.