Field vegetable grower: 'Everything starts with healthy soil'

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24 September 2021

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'Knowledge is one of those things that you get more of if you share it.' This is the opinion of John Stemkens, chairman of LLTB's Horticulture Open Crops section and member of the LTO's Agriculture and Livestock Farming section.

John Stemkens (52) has an outdoor vegetable business in Neer, in central Limburg, between Venlo and Roermond along the Maas. One of the spearheads of the chairman of the LLTB trade group Horticulture Open Cultures is the soil and keeping it vital. A vital soil contributes not only to a healthy crop, but also to biodiversity, an active soil life, reduced use of crop protection agents and to the prevention of nutrient leaching,' he explains.

Paying attention to the basics, to the soil and everything related to it. That's what the grower was always interested in. I bought my last bag of fertilizer in 2000. I was already using green manure and organic fertilizer more often in my cultivation'.

His own business at twenty years old


Stemkens started his own business when he was twenty. My father was a dairy farmer and he also kept pigs and worked in agriculture. He had an accident when I was three years old. In those days there were many more mixed farms. Specialization is something of the last twenty years,' he explains. 'Although I was always advised against farming, I persevered. When I was twelve I already did a lot of tractor work, four years later I helped with the cultivation and a few years later I had my own farm. So you see, blood is thicker than water,' says the architect.

The entrepreneur ran a mixed farm for a long time, until two years ago, when the modest pig branch was divested. I have always grown for the free market, until I switched to fully organic. Then circumstances changed, partly because my wife's health began to deteriorate," he continues.

No successor

'We then chose to work with Robin Peeters, a young entrepreneur from the neighborhood. Robin is mainly concerned with the cultivation and I provide hand and span services. The land is still mine. The choice for this construction also has to do with the fact that we have no successor. Doing nothing was not an option for me," emphasizes Stemkens. Making money

The entrepreneur is of course aware that there is also money to be made. 'You can't think green and be red in the bank. But the basis on which you do that, in my view, starts with a healthy bottom line. Many entrepreneurs go for short-term profits. On the contrary, I have always invested in the soil, so that I can still grow in ten to twenty years.'

The grower calls this the way of the long haul. 'This way of thinking is close to the organic way of thinking. Then the choice to start growing fully organic is more or less obvious. The piece of land I have, I want to pass on to the next generation better than I got it.'

Vereniging BioLogisch Limburg


As a director in the LTO trade group for outdoor vegetable production and trade group chairman at the LLTB, Stemkens came into contact a while back with the Vereniging BioLogisch Limburg. 'The initiative immediately appealed to me.' Vereniging BioLogisch Limburg is a network of organic entrepreneurs in Limburg who want to stimulate and professionalize organic agriculture and horticulture in the province. To achieve this, there is intensive cooperation in the areas of marketing, knowledge and advocacy.

'What we can achieve with the Vereniging BioLogisch Limburg is not only good for organic farmers, but for all agricultural entrepreneurs. After all, every farmer counts.'

Recovery model

Stemkens would like to develop a revenue model that benefits all farmers and market gardeners. If something is good for organic farmers, we can build a bridge from there to the conventional farmers.

The grower likes the fact that as a member of the LTO trade group Arable Farming and Field Vegetable Farming, he is managed nationally. The number of hectares and therefore the number of farmers is increasing. The number of hectares and therefore the number of farmers is decreasing so quickly and the regulations are becoming stricter and stricter, while in between you have to come up with a decent earnings model if you want to continue your business at all. That's quite a challenge for the coming years."

Source: newharvest