Protein farmers join forces for better position in agrifood chain

Lupin, field bean, soybean, chickpea: these are just some examples of leguminous crops that are particularly rich in protein. Moreover, they bind nitrogen. By growing them on Dutch soil, they make an important contribution to the protein transition and sustainability of agriculture. The farmers' desire is present, but they are encountering hurdles. Therefore Foodvalley NL helped the farmers to unite in a Producers Organisation (PO).

A fair price for a valuable product

"It cannot be the case that all partners in the supply chain profit from plant protein-rich products except the farmer himself," says farmer Henk Janknegt, brand-new chairman of the PO Dutch Protein Farmers, officially established on 8 June 2022. The farmer saw interest in plant proteins grow and therefore included field beans in his crop rotation plan. "With success: the second year a good harvest followed. My field beans were processed into veg burgers, which were on the shelves of a large supermarket chain. Then the frustration set in. Transporters, processors and supermarkets were making good money, while I was paying for all the costs and even had to pay extra. I had two options: stop or try to fundamentally change the system."

Farmers must tell their story

As a board member of the Dutch Agriculture Farming Association, Janknegt got to know Jeroen Willemsen of Foodvalley NL. Willemsen quickly saw where the shoe pinches: "Of the price that consumers pay for their veg burger, only a maximum of 5% goes to the farmer. The margin distribution throughout the chain must be more fair. In addition, more consumer appreciation is needed: a consumer study by Foodvalley NL at the end of 2021 showed that more and more consumers are willing to pay extra for home-produced meat or cheese, but are not yet sufficiently aware of plant protein-rich products made in the Netherlands."

Henk Janknegt: "Foodvalley NL gave us the insight that we as farmers must tell our story: to the retail sector, but also to the consumer. We have to show that Dutch cultivation of protein-rich crops has a positive impact. We contribute to agrobiodiversity; help solve the nitrogen problem; make agriculture more sustainable, contribute to the protein transition and to making our country more protein self-sufficient. In these times of raw material scarcity, this is important. By joining forces, we can achieve a better economic position. Foodvalley NL therefore suggested setting up a PO and brought us in contact with the right people to realise this."

Cooperation is the strength of a PO

"When a farmer has to negotiate on his own with a much larger buyer, he is in a much weaker position. That is why European agricultural law allows farmers to organise themselves," explains Maria Litjens. Maria is an expert in agricultural law and obtained her PhD in 2018 on the topic of Producer Organisations. "A PO, recognised by the national government, offers farmers a lot of opportunities. For example, they can match supply to demand, optimise production costs and cooperate in marketing. Because agricultural law takes precedence over competition law, they are even allowed to make price agreements. Of course, that only works if the members comply with it. Cooperation is the strength of a PO," says Maria.

That cooperation pays off, confirms André Jurrius, owner of Ekoboerderij de Lingehof. As co-founder of LekkerLupine, Jurrius is also closely involved in the establishment of the PO Dutch Protein Farmers. André: " Lupin farmers were pioneering separately. We sensed potential, but were unable to seize it. Thanks to LekkerLupine, 15 farmers are now working together on product development and marketing the lupin bean. As a PO you are even stronger. That is why the lupin farmers also joined the Dutch Protein Farmers."

The same applies to Anna van der Bijl. Together with her husband Peter, she is experimenting with growing chickpeas. "Although the chickpea is not unknown here, the cultivation is completely new in the Netherlands. That makes it exciting. For example, you don't know how many hours of sunshine are needed, or how to deal with weeds. Sharing knowledge and experience is therefore very valuable. If our experiment succeeds, we want to scale up. That’s when you also want a realistic price for your product. Thanks to the PO, farmers can support each other," says Anna.

Committed to protein crops from our own soil

Foodvalley's Innovation Leads Jeroen Willemsen (Protein Shift) and Jolijn Zwart-van Kessel (Circular Agrifood) initiated the Dutch Protein Farmers. Early 2021, Foodvalley NL - in cooperation with Ekoboerderij de Lingehof, Proeflab Wageningen and the Taskforce Korte Keten - brought together the first protein farmers. "Foodvalley NL is committed to a future-proof food system. It is our role to turn challenges into actions. In the cultivation of leguminous protein crops, sustainable agriculture and protein transition go hand in hand," says Jeroen. Colleague Jolijn adds: "Food security, continuity and local production are current topics. To make agriculture more sustainable, you need ecologically and economically sustainable production. It is no longer self-evident to get raw materials from far away. It is in the interest of all chain partners to offer farmers continuity with local production. I am therefore honoured that we can commit ourselves from Foodvalley NL to protein crops from our own soil."

Questions? Get in touch

Jolijn Zwart- van Kessel
Innovation Lead Circular Agrifood
+31 6 82096140

Questions? Get in touch

Jeroen Willemsen
Innovation Lead Protein Shift
+31 6 177 380 37

Join us: together we are strong

Are you already a protein farmer or do you want to start growing protein crops? The PO Dutch Protein Farmers dedicates itself to a healthier earnings model for the cultivation of high-protein crops and shares experiences about practical sowing, cultivation and harvesting. The PO also acts as a discussion partner for the authorities. Join us now, together we can strengthen our economic position in the plant protein chain.

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