Organic farming is often accused of being a niche sector that cannot possibly be part of a plan to provide food for a rapidly increasing population. However, grower and speaker at The Amsterdam Produce Show and Conference Gerjan Snippe disagrees; it’s waste not lack of crops that’s the problem
It is testament to Dutch engineering skills that the area of Flevoland exists; the majority of the land was created through sea reclamation during the 1950s and 1960s.
This is important in that it demonstrates what the Dutch can do when they set their minds to a task. Which is why, when grower Gerjan Snippe says he wants to change people’s perceptions of organic farming, one can foresee him having a significant impact.
Snippe has already started out well, he is one of a four-farmer co-operative that tends 2,000ha of organic produce in the Flevoland area of Zeewolde, under the company name Bio Brass. Snippe says that the success of the operation is all down to a healthy crop rotation, the basics of organic farming, and also through investment into reducing wastage of the product throughout the supply chain.
“For example, you harvest cauliflowers but if you don’t have the right chilling equipment then that produces waste, and the product becomes expensive,” he explains.
“I believe strongly that we are as efficient as conventional farmers, we have invested in packhouse [operations], machinery, and this all makes us more price competitive.”
Snippe, who worked for Tesco in the UK as well as as a trader in Scotland, adds that unfortunately organic farming has a reputation as something that amateurs get into, not commercially minded businesses.
However, Snippe says that this is due to people concentrating upon yields rather than looking at organic farming from a holistic point of view. Not only is it a system that ensures healthy soil, the foundation for a sustainable business, but it also produces a product that people value.
For Snippe organic farming offers a story, one that has helped the company to connect with buyers and category managers, and to gain their trust that Bio Brass can produce the high-quality products they want all year round. This is crucial, because quality is the label that organic farmers depend upon to get the right price for their produce.
“If we want food security in the longer term, then it cannot just be about getting more out of less. We have to ask, ‘how do you keep quality food on the shelf?’” says Snippe.
Bio Brass grows, as the name suggests, brassicas such as broccoli, cabbage, red cabbage, pointed cabbage, and savoy cabbage. All products are grown on the basis of a one-in-six-year rotation, where for one year it’s brassicas, and then five years of crops such as carrots, potatoes, peas, grass and clover. The company supplies not only Netherlands buyers, but supermarkets and stockists across Europe.
Snippe suggests that it is this system that many farmers would like to adopt, but have reservations as to the impact this would have on their business.
“If you speak with farmers, they all have the same goal; they want to have healthy soil, healthy land. But they also have a fear of taking that step because they think there’s not the market for the range of crops that you need to grow, or need to adjust soils from being dependent on chemical fertilisers.
“But all of that is possible, it just needs the right mindset for it, and to meet with the right people. By connecting into the supply chain, many things that you thought impossible become possible.”
Feeding the world
Snippe is an advocate of changing the way we eat in order to meet the food demands of the planet’s growing population. The United Nations Population Division is predicting a global population of 10 billion by the end of the 21st Century. With food already in shortage in vast areas of mainly developing nations, scientists are locked in a cycle of producing studies as to how to feed the extra numbers.
“A lot of calculations are made on what Western Europe eats: why should people eat what we eat? Maybe we should learn from other countries,” argues Snippe.
“We need more value in food, to throw away less. If you have more expensive but better quality food then you need less of it, and you are more careful with it, so you waste less. We need to use our resources better.”
This is a “common-sense approach” that Snippe says he takes, and alongside championing less waste, he also wants to raise awareness of moving away from a mono-diet where society relies upon a handful of crops. The word he uses a lot in relation to eating is “fun”, and that he says is the key to inspiring people to expand their culinary choices.
To this end the company has been investing in new crops, chief among them is beetroot, which is not only nutritionally attractive, but thanks to its colour and tangy taste, it also presents people with a lot of those fun opportunities for dishes.
“Beetroot is a healthy product, and we really want to inspire people,” he says of the new line, being marketed under the name Beetz.
Snippe is enthusiastic about the future of food, not only for the crops Bio Brass grows (they are in talks with salad and juice companies to develop opportunities for the beetroot side of the business) but also the onward trend towards vegetarianism.
“I met with a vegetarian butcher the other day, and he’s making burgers out of soya,” he says.
“The world is changing, and we need different solutions. With enough adventure and inspiration, we can come to another diet, one that is more in balance with the producer side. Organic is a farming model that takes us as close as possible to nature, and less dependent upon chemicals, and that has to be a good thing for everybody.”
Snippe and Bio Brass are a positive force for the organic sector, and with that Dutch resolve to make change happen, there are exciting times ahead for the company.
Gerjan Snippe will be addressing the subject Have Fun, Feed the World, and Create Value at The Amsterdam Produce Show and Conference held in the city’s iconic Westergasfabriek on November 3. You can register online here or to book a booth contact us here.