22 December 2023 | 4 min.

Arable farmer Jan Menkveld improves soil quality using landscape elements

Arable farmer Jan Menkveld from Olst has planted hedges, a linden avenue and a windbreak on his land. All these landscape elements, funded by the ASR Dutch Farmland Fund, improve the quality of the soil and promote biodiversity. ‘Farming is wonderful, but I believe it is too one-sided to only look at the crops you grow and what they yield.’

I do not only look at the ground we lease through an agricultural lens

Jan Menkveld, arable farmer: ‘My family has been farming in Olst for over 100 years. Originally this was a mixed company with both arable farming and dairy cattle. In the 1990s the dairy cows disappeared, and we have been arable farming on 40 hectares that we lease from a.s.r. and others ever since. Our farming include various types of grain such as rye, oat, barley and maize grain. And we also manage natural grasslands.

002Rd Jan Menkveld Boer

Jan Menkveld

Before my wife and I decided to join the company, I completed a vocational programme in forest and nature management followed by a course in rural regeneration. This education has allowed me to not only look at our soil through an agricultural lens; I also focus on promoting biodiversity and improving soil quality. This can be done, for example, by returning old landscape elements such as trees and hedges. In cooperation with Landschap Overijssel, I have worked on a plan that includes the landscape elements that work best in this area. We then worked with the a.s.r. steward to implement this plan, and the ASR Dutch Farmland Fund financed the layout and planting.

A 250-metre long thicket and a trimming and pruning hedge measuring 150 metres have been planted on the plots. We have also landscaped a windbreak; a strip consisting of various types of trees with a length of 200 metres and a width of 6 metres. Last but not least, we have dug a frog pond and planted a linden avenue. These landscape elements attract a lot more animals such as birds, butterflies, insects, salamanders and frogs.’

We want to provide the next generation with fertile farmland

Django Conradi, rural real estate portfolio manager at a.s.r.: ‘To encourage farmers to bring back landscape elements to the countryside, we will foot the bill for the layout and planting. Farmers can submit a proposal for this purpose. We do this because enriching the countryside using landscape elements is good for biodiversity, and boosts landscape experience and identity.

In the past, Dutch farmland was surrounded by hedges, trees and stone walls. Not unlike the landscape that is still visible in the south of England today. In time, this changed, for example due to land consolidation. The result was large, rectangular pieces of agricultural land that could easily be farmed using agricultural machinery. Easy maintenance, but this type of efficiency comes at a price. The quality of the soil goes down due to the fact that there are no more hedges and trees. The soil retains less water and nitrate flows in the direction of the waterways. This has major implications for the crops that grow in the affected areas and for water quality. Wind and rain have full play and biodiversity declines due to the fact that there is not enough housing for animals such as insects, butterflies, birds and rodents.

We see that multiple farmers are following Menkveld’s lead. If we work together to bring enough landscape elements back, the result will be a more climate-robust landscape with “green-blue veins”; a combination of water and green strips with vegetation, where animals can move freely. We want to provide the next generation with fertile farmland.’

Text: Marleen Veldhuizen