The arable farm BI-JOVIRA in Ooltgensplaat in the Southwest Delta aims to be one of the most sustainable open-field vegetable farms in the Netherlands by 2022. Over the past few months, 4 students at HAS University of Applied Sciences carried out their graduation assignment, which involves examining the challenges that this transition entails. They set up a cultivation registration system, and gave advice on potential short distribution channels.
The Mosselman family has been farming on the island of Goeree-Overflakkee in Zuid-Holland for six generations. Current owner is Cornelis Mosselman was inspired by his children to increasingly ask himself whether traditional arable farming had a future. He came to the conclusion that something had to change, and in 2018 he radically altered the farm’s direction.
Space for soil life
The farm was renamed BI-JOVIRA and became completely organic, giving soil life plenty of space to develop. Fertilisers and chemical pesticides are no longer used, and the soil is moved mechanically as little as possible. The farmworkers at BI-JOVIRA no longer drive heavy machines over the fields, but use fixed paths. The other major change was the introduction of strip cropping; on the farm’s 50 hectares, 8 different crops are grown on 8 narrow strips each 3-metres wide.
Taking on the challenges
This transition presented a considerable number of challenges. Martijn, Roy, Glenn, and Jeroen all study at HAS University of Applied Sciences (Horticulture and arable farming and Business Administration and agri-food business). In mid-February, they started looking at these challenges for their graduation assignment. They selected two challenges, and set to work on elaborating them further. Within a few months, they had set up a complete cultivation registration system. They also advised on short distribution channels for the farm, such as a pick-up point and pick-your-own days.
“One of the farm's challenges is deciding how much to charge for its produce,” say the students. “Registering everything related to cultivation provides insight into what has to be done to create a finished product, which then makes it possible to decide the price. This registration requires a system, which we developed and implemented.”
A thorough job
The cultivation registration system became operational in mid-April. Corinda van Dis works at BI-JOVIRA, and thinks this was a fine achievement. “The students carried out the assignment very thoroughly, and delivered a complete system that we’re now using. It’s a result they can rightly be proud of.” The students also learned a lot, they say. “Strip cropping is a completely different farming method where you learn to push your limits. It was interesting to really experience how this cultivation works in practice, and what it takes.”
Direct consumer contact
The advice the students gave about possible sales channels for BI-JOVIRA's organic products was of a different order. “We conducted a literature study into trends and sales figures in the organic market,” the students explain. “BI-JOVIRA wanted more direct contact with the consumer, and was looking for opportunities within short distribution channels. Based on our research, we worked out some ideas on paper, such as a pick-up point on the farm and pick-your-own days when the public can come and harvest their own vegetables.” Corinda: “It threw up some interesting ideas that we’ll be looking at in more detail in the near future.”