Dutch students from HAS University of Applied Sciences and German students from Agrobusiness Niederrhein visited the potato company Van den Borne Aardappelen in the Dutch village Reusel on 10 April 2019. The field trip was part of an international exchange within the HAS University of Applied Sciences research programme Skills Lab Natural Farming. Skills Lab Natural Farming is part of an EU Interreg programme, Regional Skills Lab. Partners include Agrobusiness Niederrhein from Germany and the Dutch Huis van de Brabantse Kempen.
Entrepreneurship and innovation
“The field trip was all about entrepreneurship and innovation,” Ursula Kirchholtes, research leader at HAS University of Applied Sciences, explains. “Owner Jacob van den Borne is a great example of an innovative and internationally operating entrepreneur who has a lot to teach students.” Jacob gave a presentation about precision agriculture and potato cultivation in the Kempen region. Paul van Zoggel from Praktijk Centrum Precisielandbouw (Practical Training Centre for Precision Agriculture) then gave a tour of the company. Van den Borne not only houses the practical training centre but is an important partner.
Jacob van den Borne describes himself as a ‘precision agriculturalist’ and uses his technical expertise to measure, analyse and research his crops, enabling him to produce as efficiently as possible and achieve a higher yield per hectare with fewer inputs (e.g. fertilisers and water). Sustainability is a significant factor in how he operates.
Sensors and drones
“I started out with GPS-guided high-precision sensors on the tractor to prevent double tillage on the field,” he said during his presentation. “Double tillage destroys microorganisms in the soil and compacts the soil, which in turn can reduce yield.” In the years that followed, he perfected how he treats soil with a great variety of sensors, such as nitrogen sensors, conductivity sensors and soil moisture sensors. He also uses drones.
The students are taking part in the HAS University of Applied Sciences research programme Skills Lab Natural Farming. Van den Borne Aardappelen (potatoes) is in the Kempen region of North Brabant. Photo: Katharina Mott
The students were enthusiastic and fascinated by his innovative approach and the various drones the entrepreneur uses. “The drones are equipped with various cameras and sensors. For example, when my crops are under threat, I can use the sensors to measure the temperature of the plant sap in the potatoes and use that to evaluate disease parameters,” Jacob explains. The company is now even officially registered as an airfield for drones with a personal landing zone.
After lunch, the students worked together during a workshop. “They came up with ideas about the future of Jacob van den Borne’s company and presented these ideas to each other,” says Ursula. “HAS students from various study programmes will be graduating in projects for the HAS University of Applied Sciences’ research programme Skills Lab Natural Farming, focussing on the Kempen. They have already come up with a concept on how Jacob can apply data to use living nature in his operational management.”
Graduation research project
Ursula gives a few examples. “One group of students came up with an idea on how Jacob can detect insects. Insects are a good indicator of soil quality that Jacob so far hasn’t used. Another group explained how Jacob can use pigs to selectively remove weeds, so he doesn’t need to do this himself. There are plenty of innovative ideas. Finally, the students also considered how they could use Jacob’s knowledge within their own graduation research project on Natural Farming in the Kempen.”