Getting on well with circular agriculture? Key performance indicators will soon make your progress measurable

March 9, 2021

In a new collaboration, Wageningen University & Research, the Louis Bolk Institute and the consultancy firm Boerenverstand are developing a system that will enable farmers to monitor their progress in circular agriculture. This should make it possible to reward farmers who make progress in this field. Over the next few years, the knowledge consortium will test an integral set of Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) for circular agriculture in practice.

Discussions about sustainability in agriculture regularly cover the importance of long-term goals, an integrated approach and revenue models. In other words, farmers want to know where they stand in terms of government policy in the long term. Focusing on individual issues is often ineffective. It makes more sense to approach soil, water, biodiversity and climate holistically on the farm. Another option would be to financially reward farmers who deliver on sustainability.

Clarity with performance indicators

Businesses need clarity, and a set of integral KPIs can help deliver that. At the moment, policies and supply chain partners often focus on individual issues, which creates anxiety and uncertainty. Frank Verhoeven, owner of Boerenverstand, says: “On the farm, all the tasks converge and sometimes also conflict. Farmers want us to give them clarity. We are working on an effective KPI system that can deliver that clarity.”

Increasing entrepreneurial freedom

Effective KPIs help to reduce the regulatory burden. Agricultural businesses often find it hard to navigate the many official measures and regulations they are faced with. Focusing more on goals and monitoring business results can help address that. Farmers can decide for themselves how to perform in terms of the sustainability issues that are relevant to their farms and how ambitious they want to be in doing so.

Rewarding sustainable performance

If the sustainable performance of agricultural businesses can be demonstrated, it is easier for customers, community stakeholders and authorities to financially reward them. Programme coordinator and former mayor Wouter de Jong: “We want to help to put an agricultural policy in place that focuses on goals rather than means and that rewards farmers with a fair price for their sustainable performance.”

Collaboration builds on ongoing projects

KPIs already exist in dairy and arable farming. This project builds on experiences in those sectors and develops and tests the indicators in practice. To achieve this, we are working with farms in experimental areas for circular agriculture. These areas, which have been designated by the Minster of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality, offer farmers scope to temporarily deviate from regulations in order to experiment with circular agriculture. In addition to these experimental areas, pilots will also be run in a number of other fields.

This project will deliver a basic set of KPIs for circular agriculture (KPI-c) that can be used for a range of sustainability goals and sectors in different regions. Project leader Anne van Doorn of Wageningen University & Research is pleased with the collaboration: “The knowledge consortium of LBI, Boerenverstand and WUR is a good mix of thinkers and doers. We are in urgent need of both to make this promising KPI tool happen.”

For more information on the progress and results of this project, visit