Wrap up: Organic vs. intensive agriculture: the facts!

The RUW Foundation visited organic farm the Hooilanden on the 6th of June. We cycled through hard winds to hear the story of this farm. The owner gave a tour to the 8 participants of the tour over the property; we saw the +/- 90 cows, the calves, the milk parlour and the fields.

We heard a passionate story about setting up a farm from scratch, without a lot of farming experience. With the help from other organic farms and a farmer-motivation to go organic or don’t farm at all the company is now thriving! We learned that the main difference between organic and conventional farming is the way the farmers see their animals. Instead of focussing on earning money, these farmers were focusing on the well-being of the cows and the fields using its natural strength and recuperation power. The focus was on the ability of land and animals to sustain itself without unnatural inputs like chemical fertilizers and extra feed concentrate. The organic system seemed so obvious when we heard everything about it, yet the far majority of farms in Holland does not embrace this system.

After the tour on the farm we went to the classroom to ask all questions we had to the expert panel we invited. This panel consisted of Bert Rijk, from Plant Production Systems (WUR), Bernadette Backers, from Organic Shop de Kardoen in Bennekom, Ellen Hartman, professor Nutrition and Disease (WUR), Maria-Franca Dekkers and Houkje Adema. The last two are students from the honours-program who wrote in a team of five students the book: “A closer look into organic statements (Biologische stellingen onder de loep)”. We discussed six statements from this book, with all possibility for the audience to ask their questions, place comments, and even sometimes act as the expert! The audience of around 20 people was a varied group of pro-organics, (conventional) farmers and people who couldn’t pick a side and were looking for genuine information on the topic.

All in all we learned that E-numbers also occur in processed organic foods, though only a limited amount is allowed. There is more biodiversity around organic farms, which is related to the maximum 6x increased land use of organic farming. Conventional farmers also love their animals, otherwise they would never continue in the business. Furthermore, organic foods contain more nutrients, but the question is if we actually need more nutrients. Bernadette also spotted an increased energy level around organic vegetables, this however we did not proof scientifically ;). Lastly organic products are much more expensive than non-organic products. These and many more facts were discussed during this interesting event!

For the future of the agricultural system the entire panel agreed that more social values amongst consumers and farmers seemed to be the most promising solution. We hope we created some consciousness in the audience through the critical content!

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