In February 2020, together with agricultural cooperative CIGTA and growers’ organisation TOC, canned vegetables manufacturer HAK welcomed the Minister for Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality, Carola Schouten, to HAK’s Giessen location in the Land of Heusden and Altena region of the Dutch province of North Brabant. The minister spoke to the growers with whom HAK partners very closely. During the visit, they talked about how local, more sustainable cultivation not only yields more sustainable products but also strengthens farmers’ earning potential.
The programme that HAK, an NPM Capital portfolio company, and the growers had arranged for the minister included conversations with local growers about sustainable cultivation — its results and what it means for their earning potential — and with HAK to discuss the company’s strategy for the ‘On the way to PlanetProof’ quality label and for circular agriculture. During the plant tour, Minister Schouten could see for herself how red cabbage grown according to the ‘On the way to PlanetProof’ standards is processed.
Watch the video of Minister Schouten’s visit, uploaded by her Ministry.
During her visit, the minister also heard why, for more than sixty-five years, HAK has stood by its commitment to the principle of sourcing its vegetables and legumes from within a 125-km radius of the Giessen plant. She also learned more about how HAK grows and processes its vegetables according to the principles of circular agriculture, as well as how the company recycles its wasteflows back into the chain within 60 km of the plant. The tour also illustrated how long-term relationships with local vegetable and legume growers enable the canned vegetables manufacturer to make local agriculture more sustainable, one step at a time.
The four growers from the Land of Heusden and Altena who attended the visit are members of the CIGTA agricultural cooperative and have been growing red cabbage for HAK since 2019, adhering to the requirements and guiding principles of the independent sustainability quality mark ‘On the way to PlanetProof’. HAK compensates these growers for their extra effort and the additional costs they incur to meet the requirements, such as replacing artificial fertiliser with livestock manure, which both enriches the soil and makes it healthier. The use of mechanical weed control and environmentally-friendly crop protection methods is also encouraged, as are a wide range of other requirements and measures that growers participating in this sustainability programme need to satisfy.
At the end of her visit, Minister Schouten commented that, ‘It was extremely valuable to hear from the growers how they’re working with HAK to achieve more sustainable cultivation and greater earning potential. Of course, they do face some hurdles along the way, but I’m impressed with their positive attitude, their vision and their entrepreneurship.’ The growers from CIGTA were also glad to have the opportunity to share with the minister both the challenges they face every day as well as their way of working: ‘We’re very pleased with the first season of ‘On the way to PlanetProof’ cultivation for HAK, and we’ll definitely keep it up. After all, that’s the future.’
In October 2019, the growers collaborated with HAK to harvest their first ‘On the way to PlanetProof’ red cabbage in the Netherlands. Consumers can now purchase this cabbage in Dutch supermarkets. According to the roll-out schedule, all leafy vegetables, sauerkraut, sprouts and beetroot will be grown using this more sustainable method by the end of 2020. Together with the growers, HAK will revisit the matters of the associated extra costs and of appropriate compensation. HAK is hoping that all of its summer and winter vegetables — which are grown within a 125-km radius — will achieve the ‘On the way to PlanetProof’ quality mark by 2021.
The growers, often multiple generations within the same family, value stewardship above short-term gain, so they made sure the minister was aware that they face a large and ever-growing amount of bureaucratic red tape that makes it harder for them to operate. Despite that challenge, they are committed to pursuing more sustainable cultivation, such as the ‘On the way to PlanetProof’ methods and organic growing, because they believe that these approaches have more added value. Sustainable methods also help their soil stay more fertile than if they were to grow commodity crops, such as wheat and potatoes, which incidentally are also mainly destined for the export market.
For her part, Minister Schouten was interested to see how HAK is putting into practice its earlier plea that ‘growers who invest in sustainable cultivation should receive financial compensation for their investment in every link of the distribution chain’. She also showed interest in the discussions with supermarkets about that goal and in HAK’s management of the chain with that ambition in mind.
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