Impression of a possible future of circular agriculture in the top op of North Holland.
Impression of a possible future of circular agriculture in the top op of North Holland.

Completing the cycle?

Opportunities for circular agriculture in North Holland

The need to reorganize our food system is evident. In addition, circular agriculture is being put forward by more and more parties as a beckoning perspective. Circular agriculture produces as little waste as possible, the emission of harmful substances is as small as possible and raw materials and end products are used with as few losses as possible. Circular agriculture is also on the administrative and policy agenda in North Holland. That is why the Provincial Advisor Spatial Quality (PARK) has commissioned Studio Marco Vermeulen and Het PON & Telos to carry out a spatial exploration into the opportunities for circular agriculture in North Holland.

Want to read more? The entire report, which provides a visual and textual report of this exploration, can be downloaded here.

The latest forms of precision technology can link sustainable soil management and care for biodiversity with the pursuit of productivity and food quality.

Technology plays an important role in the transition to circular agriculture.
Technology plays an important role in the transition to circular agriculture.

New revolution in agriculture

Technology plays an important role in the transition to circular agriculture. In itself, the use of automation and technology in agriculture is nothing new. What is new is the way the technology is being used to tackle problems related to food disease and unstable weather patterns. The focus is increasingly on achieving the desired yields in an environmentally friendly way, i.e. with a reduction in chemicals. Advanced technology makes it possible to link the challenge of sustainable soil management and care for biodiversity with the pursuit of productivity and food quality. The latest forms of precision technology and pixel farming can reconcile both challenges. By means of technology (robotics, drones) and data systems, it is also possible to realize scale reduction in a landscape sense within the current business conditions of scaling up and intensifying.

We can't go back to the past. But with the help of advanced technology, we can "forward to the past". Without detracting from the requirements of productivity and food quality, a richer landscape with better soil quality and more biodiversity can be created within the landscape framework of polders, reclaimed land and peat meadows.
Eighteen different farming building blocks
Eighteen different farming building blocks
Eighteen different farming building blocks
Eighteen different farming building blocks

Circular agriculture in practice

If we translate the (working) definition of circular agriculture into agricultural practice in Noord-Holland, the concrete principles are the following: ensuring a living soil, combating soil compaction, linking residual flows, the right place for the right crop, resilient crops and green-blue veining. For every form of agriculture (forestry, arable farming, livestock, greenhouse horticulture, etc.) these principles provide a range of possible forms of circular agriculture; 'agricultural tiles'. From a circular perspective, new forms of arable farming are discussed: broad crop rotation, pixel agriculture and strip cultivation.
The building blocks for circular agriculture can be linked to the diversity of soil types available in the province.
The building blocks for circular agriculture can be linked to the diversity of soil types available in the province.

An overwhelming palette

The building blocks for circular agriculture can be linked to the diversity of soil types available in the province. The soil type largely determines what is possible in an agricultural and spatial sense and what is not. In the light of the transition to a circular economy and the challenges posed by the climate challenge, there is a growing demand for the soil and water system to be (again) leading in spatial planning instead of following (function follows bottom and level, and not the other way around).
With the soil as the basis, various forms of circular agriculture in North Holland are conceivable. Salt-tolerant crops do well on peat and clay soil, while sustainable bulb cultivation is really only suitable on sandy soil. The combination of soil types with the building blocks for circular agriculture results in a new legend of the agricultural landscape in North Holland. This special palette of sustainable and circular land use forms also provides a new landscape expression.

Circular agriculture, in which raw materials, energy, water and waste cycles are closed as much as possible, is growing into the landscape foundation on which Noord-Holland prepares itself for the future.

Future strategy per area: The north of the province
Future strategy per area: The north of the province
Future strategy per area: Low lying part of the province
Future strategy per area: Low lying part of the province

Future strategy per area

The building blocks for circular agriculture form the basis for a beckoning spatial perspective for the clay polders in the Kop van Noord-Holland and the peat meadows in Laag-Holland. These two areas each have their own agricultural signature and specific challenges in terms of soil vitality, circularity and climate adaptation.

In contrast to the highly productive arable and horticultural farming for the world market in the fertile polder landscapes of the Kop van Noord-Holland, dairy farming on grassland in the smaller-scale and wet peat meadow landscapes of Laag-Holland.

The starting point for the area perspectives is the ambition to make the agricultural economy of Noord-Holland fully circular. Conventional agriculture, intensive arable farming with a mixed farm here and there, will gradually change color in the area perspectives we have developed on the way to 2050.
Precision production polder as a future perspective
Precision production polder as a future perspective

Precision production polder as a future perspective

The polders in the Kop van Noord-Holland are rugged agricultural landscapes in one piece. Some polders, such as the Wieringermeer, are designed as a whole: a well-functioning, coherent system of drainage through canals and ditches, with an efficient allotment structure and an open landscape framed by dikes. The landscape in the Kop van Noord-Holland is dominated by large-scale arable farming and horticulture, including potatoes and sugar beet.

To keep the consequences of salinization and desiccation and the vulnerability of monocultures manageable, a transition in management and use of the Kop van Noord-Holland will be necessary. The approach to soil vitality and biodiversity will strongly influence the operational management of arable farming and horticulture. The beckoning future perspective is that of a production polder, in which precision agriculture is practiced on a large scale to close cycles and strengthen soil vitality and biodiversity.

The image arises of a production polder where high-tech farmers use technological innovations (drones, field robots, etc.) for their crops. The empty and monotonous arable land gradually changes into a differentiated landscape where mixed forms and combinations of functions predominate. Production takes place for the world market. Smart combinations with urban VGF and waste flows enable a new type of mixed activity, in which organic matter from urban flows keeps the sandy clay polders vital.
Wide wetlands as a future perspective
Wide wetlands as a future perspective

The use of local, locally grown (agricultural) building materials also gives the transition to circular agriculture a cultural dimension, which helps to provide the New Deal between agriculture and society with meaning.

Wide wetlands as a future perspective

The landscape of Laag-Holland is characterized by the peat meadow areas on the one hand and the reclaimed land on the other. Dairy farming is the most common form of agriculture in the peat meadow areas. Within the reclaimed land (Schermer, Beemster, Purmer), in addition to dairy farming on the clay soils, arable farming, vegetable and bulb cultivation (traveling bulb stalls) also take place. Due to their proximity to the Amsterdam metropolis, they are responding to the needs of urban consumers for regional and healthy food with short-chain initiatives, among other things.

In order to keep the consequences of the irreversible process of peat subsidence manageable, a transition in management and use of Laag-Holland will eventually be necessary. Wetting of the area (raising the water level) has consequences for the operational management of dairy farming. The perspective is that of a wide wetland landscape, in which wet forms of agriculture will play a greater role in parts of the area. In some subareas (ie not everywhere) dairy farming will disappear and make way for a different type of agriculture, with various crops on wet peat soils.

The image is created of an aquatic metropolitan landscape where extensive forms of livestock farming are combined with peat meadow farmers who introduce wet crops (cultivation of wet raw materials and fodder crops), urban farmers connect the city with the rural area and new forms of aquatic nature arise. It is an alternately open and sheltered (partly bushy) landscape that simultaneously functions as a park for the Amsterdam metropolis. It is interspersed with a network of walking and cycling paths. Visitors, residents and tourists buy directly from the farmer and help with the harvest.

This research shows that the added benefits of closing the cycle between city and countryside is a more attractive, more biodiverse and also more productive landscape.

This research shows that the added benefits of closing the cycle between city and countryside is a more attractive, more biodiverse and also more productive landscape.

The interaction between the subareas; The north of Noord-Holland supplies food for the MRA region, which in turn supplies green residual flows to the agricultural land to keep the soil fertile and healthy.
The interaction between the subareas; The north of Noord-Holland supplies food for the MRA region, which in turn supplies green residual flows to the agricultural land to keep the soil fertile and healthy.

Closing cycles

The smart interweaving of the raw material, energy, water and waste cycles on a provincial scale could well provide the foundation on which Noord-Holland prepares itself for the future. In other words: the cycle between the two area transitions can contribute to completing the circle at provincial level. This research shows that the by-catch of closing the cycle between city and countryside is a more attractive, more biodiverse and also more productive landscape.

In the outlined area perspectives for circular agriculture in the Kop van Noord-Holland and Laag-Holland, a radical transition to a different use and management of the soil is central. The soil (and the water system) forms the basis on which new forms of circular agriculture are grafted: adapted dairy farming, wet crops and water farmers in the peat meadows, high-tech farmers, mixed farmers and biodiverse arable farmers in the sandy clay polders. The empty and monotonous arable land in the Kop van Noord-Holland gradually changes into a differentiated landscape where mixed forms and function combinations predominate, while the characteristic peat meadow polders in Laag-Holland gradually transform into a more aquatic metropolitan landscape.

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