In the village of Valthermond in the east of the Netherlands, we visited Wageningen University’s demonstration farm. Wageningen UR, like UC Davis, is one of the leading agricultural research universities in the world. Here, innovative practices on water and nutrient management as well as soil health are being field tested on the farm – as an incubator for new farming practices that can not only benefit the Netherlands but also has the potential to address food security across the globe.
During the visit in Valthermond we met with Marc van Rijsselberghe, owner of Salt Farm Texel – a producer of salt-tolerant agricultural products. Marc graciously offered us the opportunity to taste his products (tomatoes, potatoes and sea kale) grown with 50 percent seawater. The products are truly amazing and are sold at a premium on supermarket shelves. Marc, like all innovative farmers, took something that was thought to be impossible and made it commercially viable. As we in California address challenges with water quality and saline soils, working with salt-tolerant agricultural products, specifically within the specialty crop sector, can be a positive step in adapting to our changing climate.
While on the farm, we also had the opportunity to get our hands in the dirt, note the qualities associated with having higher organic matter in the soil, and discuss the farming approaches to keep soils healthy. Like California, Dutch farmers understand the importance of healthy soils and what this can mean for productivity, carbon sequestration and environmental sustainability. Farming practices associated with maintaining and increasing organic matter in soils is an area where California truly excels.
In all of our meetings and visits so far, the Dutch have stressed the approach of business, academia and government working collaboratively to solve on-farm challenges associated with climate change. It has resulted in some very impressive work and synergies among various stakeholders. I’m looking forward to a time when we have multi-national collaboration between California and the Netherlands on climate smart agriculture, involving business, academia and government working for a more sustainable future.
Delivering on Climate Smart Agriculture
Our trip to the Netherlands is just the start of greater collaboration with the Dutch in addressing climate change in the agricultural sector. The innovations in water use, green house technology, and saline agriculture are practical on-farm solutions that can assist California’s farmers. We have coherent and very similar trends – the convergence of technology and applied research in the farming sector that not only addresses current market demands, but helps position growers to meet the needs of a growing world population.
With our partners at the University of California, we have the opportunity to expand collaboration with Wageningen UR to develop joint research projects on climate smart agriculture – bringing the lessons and practices learned in the Netherlands, home to California. When I see the reuse of water for food production, taste horticultural products grown with salt water and observe the production gains that greenhouse management systems can bring to our berry industry – these are connections that our growers would be eager to learn more about.
In continuing our collaboration with the Ministry of Economic Affairs there is the potential to support joint investment in a climate smart agriculture project that brings together business, academia and government. This project could test the viability of saline crops or look at opportunities for integrated solutions in the farming sector. As we begin to the lay the groundwork for this initiative, I look forward to bringing the farming community and my government colleagues into the discussions.
At our visit with Koppert Cress – an innovative nursery that sells specialty products to restaurants, the owner Rob Baan, mentioned his participation in an Ag & Food Tech Safari to Silicon Valley. This novel idea emphasizes the opportunity we have to bring some of the agricultural technologies we are seeing in Netherlands to California through forums at the World Ag Expo or other venues – allowing farms and tech to connect and learn from one another. The technology we saw at AquaReUse and Priva among others truly shows some of the synergies we can have on the farm in California.
I look forward to hosting our friends from the Netherlands in California and continuing to build upon the foundation of friendship we have established. When we look at the approach of climate smart agriculture that California is implementing through the State Water Efficiency and Enhancement Program (SWEEP), Healthy Soils and our dairy digester program and the work being done in the Netherlands we can see a shared commitment to a climate smart future. California and the Netherlands are truly places where knowledge and innovation grow.