Observing the renewable energy transition from a European perspective

Archive for the category “agriculture”

Carbon Farming – Storing CO2 in the Soil as Biomass

Carbon Farming is a new way of farming to sequestrate carbon in the soil. Carbon that otherwise ends up as CO2 in our atmosphere, causing climate change. There are many ways to do this: from small adjustments on farm level – like applying fertilizers rich in carbon, reduced or no-tillage, or planting cover crops – to changes in the entire farming system – like enriched crop rotation or agroforestry.

[] – What is carbon farming?
[] – Carbon farming
[] – EU sets the carbon farming initiative in motion
[] – Carbon farming: koolstofboeren in Zeeland

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Indoor Farming – Advantages as Far as the Eye Can See

Despite being one of the smallest countries on earth, the Netherlands manages to be the 2nd in agricultural exports. Key to the secret: glasshouse farming.

Advantages greenhouse farming:

  • Much less water consumption per kg of produce
  • Extended growth season, up until 12 months/year
  • Little need for pesticides
  • Much higher yield/m2, up to 350 times compared to open fields
  • Producing near consumers, saving produce transport cost
  • Huge potential for automation
  • Protection harvest against extreme weather
  • Possibility of increased yield through CO2 injection
  • Possibility of warming the greenhouse in the winter with geothermal heat

[deepresource] – Growing Crops in the Australian Desert with Seawater

Gulf States Create Artificial Rain with Drones

[] – Dubai creates its own RAIN to tackle 122F heat: Drones blast clouds with electrical charge to produce downpours

Application of CSP in Agriculture

[] – 36.6 MW integrated energy system based on CSP in Australia
[deepresource] – Growing Crops in the Australian Desert with Seawater

Chinese Greenhouses

[] – Reinventing the Greenhouse
[] – Solar greenhouses, Chinese-style

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Herenboeren – Radical New Form of Local Agriculture

All material in Dutch

The concept: a cooperation of 200 households with 500 persons commit themselves to a stable economic relationship with a single professional farmer, who produces what the 200 households will consume. The relationship is not anonymous, but strongly involved on both sides. Everybody knows how the food, vegetables, fruit, potatoes, meat, eggs, is produced, obviously in a sustainable fashion. The farmer produces on demand. The work is done by the farmer; volunteer labor is possible, but not required. The farmer has economic security, the associated cooperation members have food security, produced in a healthy, sustainable fashion and around the corner. It’s an economic marriage. An additional bonus for all involved is membership of a social community, a break-away from the atomized existence of lonely television watcher and supermarket frequenter, who no longer has a church to rely upon.

Practical details:

  • upfront investment of €2000,- per household, leading to participation
  • the farmer has a salary
  • weekly contribution per mouth: €12.30 (vegetarians €9.80). This is cheap and a consequence of eliminating middlemen and transport and storage
  • required soil: 15-20 hectares
  • food distribution: cooperation members distribute, typically 1 member for 5 households (minimize CO2 footprint)
  • farm visit times: Wednesday 16:00-18:00 or Saturday 11:00-13:00
  • no profit motive, no selling of excess food
  • supply: 5 different vegetables per week. 8 kg beef, 11 kg pork annually
  • yearly cultivation plan in consultation

[] – project site
[] – Stichting Herenboeren Nederland (list of cooperations)

What if You Can’t Connect to Industrial Society?

The Case for Agrivoltaics

Yes, plants need light, just like you need food. But just like that there is a limit to the amount of food that is beneficial to you, there is also a limit to the amount of light that a plant needs to flourish. Plant growth is proportional to CO2 absorption. The key measure here is photosynthetically active radiation (PAR). According to the video, there is a cut-off point above 1000 PAR, which means that the plants can do without a portion of the daily supply of sun rays and wouldn’t mind a sunscreen, just like you may have in your garden if it all gets too much in the summer:

During sunny days in Southern Europe, the solar influx could reach PAR-values of 1600-2000. In other words, 60-100% could be shaved off the peak value, without impact on agricultural yield. And those are also the hours when solar yield is maximal.

That’s where agrovoltaics come in, where solar panels can be used as sunscreens, providing a nice extra source of income for the farmer involved, without significant impact on his agricultural yield.

[] – Photosynthetically active radiation
[] – Agrivoltaics: opportunities for agriculture and the energy transition
[deepresource] – Airborn Solar Panels

Turning Sand Into Fertile Soil


A desert can be turned into fertile land after some simple preparations. All over the world, projects are going on to make this happen. The trick is to turn sand into a substance that can hold water.

Norwegian scientist Kristian Morten Olesen has patented a process to mix nano-particles of clay with water and bind them to sand particles to condition desert soil – he has been working on Liquid Nanoclay (LNC) since 2005. “The treatment gives sand particles a clay coating which completely changes their physical properties and allows them to bind with water,” he says. “This process doesn’t involve any chemical agents. We can change any poor-quality sandy soils into high-yield agricultural land in just seven hours.”

[] – Company site
[] – The innovation turning desert sand into farmland
[] – This startup wants to turn Dubai’s desert into farmland
[] – Chinese scientists successfully convert sand into soil
[] – Turn Sand into Soil
[] – Turning sand into soil

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Sparter the Robot to Replace Missing Eastern Europeans

The economic growth in Eastern Europe that came with EU-membership, makes it ever less attractive for its citizens to do agricultural work in Western Europe. It is the same development we saw earlier with Spanish and Italian workers, who came to countries like Germany and the Netherlands as so-called guest-workers. They almost all went home again as soon as their local economy picked up.

That brings problems to the potent Dutch agricultural sector, that relies heavily on those workers. But a solution is in sight. Agricultural work is highly repetitive and hence is suitable for automation. Like the asparagus harvesting robot in the video.

Harvesting speed: 0.3 ha/hour
Operation time: 16 hours/day
Turning circle: 6 m
Operators required: 1 man, replaces 70 human workers
Crop yield increase: 15-20% with higher quality
EU subsidy: €1.5 million
Company: Cerescon B.V. in Heeze, Netherlands
Next development target: cucumbers, mushrooms and blackberries
Entrepreneurs: Ad Vermeer en Thérèse van Vinken


[] – Sparter
[] – Aspergesteker heet straks geen Iwan of Jakub meer, maar robot Sparter
[] – Groei Oost-Europa zorgt voor steeds minder werkende Oost-Europeanen in Nederland

De Nederlandse Tuinbouw Sector

Zalmkwekerij in Noorwegen

A few facts regarding Salmon.

Global Salmon production: 3.2 million tonnes/year
Farmed/wild ratio: 3:1
Atlantic origin: 70%
Individual Salmon: 4-6 kg after 2 years
Energy: 208 kcal/100 gram
Protein: 20%
Fat: 13%

Good source of vitamin D and Omega-3 and 6.

[] – Tracé van Zalm

Largest EU Vertical Farming Project Underway in Denmark

Today half of all the fertile land on the planet is used to grow food. According to the startup Nordic Harvest of Denmark, it is possible to harvest the same amount of food, distributed over 15 times per year on 100 times less soil. And they intend to prove that bold assertion. After humans gave the example first, now plants will have to get used to living in high-rise buildings. Nordic Harvest plans an agricultural production unit near Copenhagen, with 14 stories, operational in 2021. The enterprise will run entirely on artificial light, making growing food almost completely independent of location, say Nigeria or Iceland, opening up the possibility of growing sufficient food near places where the consumers live: big cities and save on transport and seasonal storage of food. Instead: harvest and eat immediately. Get ready for the complete industrialization and automatization of agriculture. Food shortages will be a thing of the past, obesity will be a far bigger problem globally.

[] – Nordic Harvest company site
[] – EU’S largest vertical farm to be built in Denmark
[] – Europas größte Vertical Farm entsteht in Dänemark
[] – Europe’s largest vertical farm in Denmark

The Netherlands has always been a front-runner in greenhouse technology and achieved remarkable economic success by providing fresh food all year around. However, the very expensive land in the Netherlands was only used once. Vertical harvesting of 15 stories means that the same mount of land is quasi used 15 times over. The Netherlands will have to rethink its greenhouse business model. The Dutch population can look forward to agricultural land given back to nature.

Agrophotovoltaics – Lowering the Cost of Renewable Energy

Solar photo-voltaic power claims a lot of land. In the desert that is not a problem, but in populated areas that land needs to compete between energy and agricultural interests. Or does it? The German Fraunhofer Institute has been a global front-runner in promoting a dual use approach and as such increase the financial return for the landowner. It is possible to keep sheep under solar panels or harvest honey from flowers growing in between.

[] – Enel begins operations of Aurora PV plant in Minnesota
[] – Enel Green Power Promotes Sustainability At Solar Power Plants In US

Agriport A7 – Industrial Scale Greenhouse Agriculture

The Netherlands are known for its “water surplus”, to put it diplomatically. The reality is that even in the Low Countries, sufficient water supply for agricultural purposes is no longer guaranteed. A solution for the drought problem could lie in a shift from conventional agriculture towards horticulture in greenhouses, where scarce water can be “trapped” in the confinement of the greenhouse. Increased application of geothermal energy could provide additional value to year-around harvesting.

[] – Agriport A7 project site
[] – Agriport A7
[] – Alweer kreunt de landbouw onder de droogte
[Google Maps] – Agriport A7
[deepresource] – Growing Crops in the Australian Desert with Seawater

Read more…

The Agricultural Sector in the Netherlands


In 2015 about 2/3 of Dutch soil was reserved for agricultural purposes. Early 2019 there were 53.919 registered farmers (“boeren”) in the Netherlands, representing 0,6 % of total Dutch employment. The average balance sheet value of agricultural enterprises is about 3.5 million euro. For the Calvinist Dutch farmers the adage applies: “live poor, die rich”. Dutch farmers live for their work, are extremely frugal, highly competent, open for technological innovation. As a result, although the Netherlands is one of the smallest countries in this world, its agricultural exports ranks second (94B) and only has to tolerate the US (150B) ahead of itself and that with 250 times less soil and 19 times fewer people. It goes without saying that the agricultural lobby is very powerful in the Netherlands. Perhaps a little too powerful.

Most farmers are active in dairy farming (16,000), next crop farmers (11,000), horticulture (6,700) and pig farming (5,300). Their produce needs to be harvested, sold at an auction, transported, processed and sold again to consumers. All in all, for every farmer, 10 people work in related employment or ca. 6% of total “Dutch” employment. It needs to be added that the vast majority of agricultural field workers are foreigners, mostly Eastern Europeans (80% or more).

Remaining land use: urban environment 14%, nature 14%, water 5%, recreation 3%.

In the Netherlands a conflict is brewing about the role of agriculture. Isn’t the sector too big? Does a small country like the Netherlands really need to be the 2nd agricultural exporter in the world, with agriculture claiming most of the scarce land? Aren’t Brexit and climate a good opportunity to scale down this sector, to the benefit of nature?

[] – Dit draagt het boerenbedrijf bij aan de welvaart
[] – Balanswaarde land- en tuinbouwbedrijven
[] – Top 10 Agricultural Exporters

Growing Crops in the Desert With NanoClay

Nothing grows in the desert because the sandy soil is unable to retain water. The Norwegian company Desert Control has found a solution: add a layer of nano clay as top soil of ca. 40-60 cm and the desert can begin to produce crops instantaneously.

Earlier this year a project in Dubai has begun to grow watermelon, zucchini and pearl millet:

Growing melons in the Dubai desert in 2020

The way it works is that a mixture of water and clay particles is spayed over sandy soil, sinks into it and mixes with the sand, increasing the ability to hold water like a sponge and add minerals to the mix and you are ready to go plant your crops. You will need less than half the water to achieve good results. The liquid nanoclay is only a little thicker than water and easily percolates into the soil; you can even use sprinklers.

Dubai, a rich country that imports 90% of its food, is the ideal incubator for this technology. Price tag: $2-5/m2. Desert Control raised $5 million, which it invested in nanoclay producing units with a capacity of 40 m3/hour.

[] – This startup wants to turn Dubai’s desert into farmland
[] – Company site
[] – The innovation turning desert sand into farmland
[] – Transforming Deserts into Fertile Farmland using Liquid NanoClay

Geothermal-Heated Greenhouses in Iceland

Dutch Greenhouses

Tom Hegen

Thanks to (relatively) energy efficient LED-light, these greenhouses can offer a year-long growing season at northern latitudes. As a bonus, the greenhouses offer a form of agriculture with reduced water needs, which could preempt climate change and longer periods of drought. The Netherlands are small and soil is expensive. With greenhouses massive extra agricultural returns compensate for that handicap.

The Netherlands is a small country by size, but is huge when it comes to agricultural exports—second in the world behind the United States, by some counts. Indoor agriculture—forever altered by energy-efficient LEDs that can produce parts of the light spectrum most helpful and attractive to plants—is a significant area of research and innovation for the industry there. “The Dutch have created the most advanced area in the world for controlled environment agriculture and have become world leaders in agricultural innovation,” says Hegen on his website.


[] – Glowing Dutch Greenhouses, As Seen From Way Up High
[] – Tom Hegen’s stunning “pictures from above”
[] – Dutch greenhouses have revolutionized modern farming

Feeding Society in a Ever hotter and Dryer Environment

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