Experts on Dutch soil needs in live Q&A

Published on
June 25, 2020

In a pop-up studio on a calm Wageningen campus the juices were flowing for ‘Soil at Dutch farms’ on 12 June. This is the first time the WUR student challenge ‘Make all soils Healthy again!’ organises a live broadcast. At home, students participating tuned in to ask several questions. Farmers and soil experts René Bos and Anne Schelhaas are calling in from home for a Q&A following their interviews.

With some help translating here and there the two Dutch famers get their point across clearly: as experts in their fields they would like less generic legislation and better custom information to be able to, on a farm level, produce higher yields on their land for generations to come. All eyes are on the future and improving soil health is an important part of a sustainable food system.

Student challenge on soil health

According to the FAO thirty per cent of land in the world is in poor condition due to degradation of soils. If this problem is not tackled in the near future, producing enough food for the world’s population is a serious problem. The EU organizes and finances a research programme in the years 2021-2027 based on five ‘Missions’, one of these missions is ’Soil Health and Food’. With the WUR student challenge ‘Make all soils healthy again!’ the organisation hopes to get input from young people as they are the future. During the research of the subject and aiding the development of their plans the online event was organised.

Politicians should listen better to those who work on the soil every day
Anne Schelhaas, dairy farmer

Legislation for sustainable goals

Certain legislation does not comply with the everyday business on a farm. Make the regulations from conversations with real farmers using their valuable experiences and specify regulations by type of farm say the farmers Rene Bos (sandy soil region Ijsselham), Anne Schelhaas (Blesdijke, peat soil) and Peter Verhage (Luttelgeest, clay soil) in their interviews preceding the event. Verhage, unfortunately was unable to attend the Q&A.

“I want to take an advantage of my own organic manure containing phosphates. It would be nice to make the legislation more intelligent.” says Rene Bos. Dairy farmer and expert on sandy loamy soil. He can count on support from Johan Bouma (member of the Soil Health and Food Mission) who states that sustainable goals contain economic, social and environmental aspects in order to work and that we should focus on the goals and not the means to reach them. “We have all the modern methods to measure quality of water and air and how much ammonia comes from it on farm level. The rules should follow from that.” Johan says.

To sell or give away manure and then having to buy fertiliser doesn’t make sense
René Bos, dairy farmer

Also politics could do with a bit more patience, as nature won’t let itself forced to a quick result says farmer Anne Schelhaas. He has a dairy farm in Blesdijke which is mostly on peat soil. He works together with his son. To the question “What do you see as a healthy soil?” of team HupSoilHub he replies “I think the soil is really healthy if my son’s 8 month old daughter can work on it when she is old enough to take over the farm from my son.”

Organic farming for the future

With focus on the future and a sustainable food system as a part of it the teams ask both farmers: “Is organic farming the next step?”. The answer is clear; they don’t see a market for it as the demand from consumers is not sufficient at the moment. Organic farming is about mindset, price and time. There currently is no better price for organic milk. That means that the switch, that takes two years, is not profitable right now.

As part of the event Netherlands Enterprise Agency gave a live lecture about intellectual property rights. While Karen Kraan- Sam provided the lecture, her colleague Maurice Mooijman was working in the live chat to answer all questions.

Soil Challenge Q&A


The finals of student challenge ‘Make all Soils Healthy Again!’ are scheduled to take place in August. The organisers will closely monitor the development of the virus outbreak and keep you posted about the finals in coronavirus times.

Watch the online event

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