The Open Soil Index makes sustainability concrete

"The future of farming depends on the quality of the land on which farmers grow their crops or graze their cows." Jeen Nijboer is Theme Manager for Sustainability Food & Agri. He collaborated on the development of the Open Soil Index, a tool that provides insight into the quality of the soil. "We make sustainability concrete, so farmers know where they stand right now and what they can improve. That gives farmers future perspective."

“A healthy soil ensures good crop yields,” explains Jeen. “Farmers face a big task when it comes to a sustainable food supply. The demand for food is increasing and consumers are making greater demands on how that food is produced. In order to maintain good soil quality – for generations to come – you need to know how things are going. The Open Soil Index makes that clear.

“The Open Soil Index is a tool that allows you to measure the sustainability of the soil. It uses existing data sources, including laboratory analyses, satellite data and soil data. Farmers share this data so that we can combine it with information about the region, water quality and soil type. This leads to a number that represents the quality of your soil compared to the most ideal situation. Then you get all kinds of recommendations to get your soil in top condition.”

“Sustainability is about the future of your farm. There are many farmers who want to become more sustainable, but if it has a negative impact on their income, that battle cannot take place. The Open Soil Index helps you set clear goals. You know exactly where you stand and what you can do to improve your situation.”

Jeen Nijboer speaks about Open Soil Index

Working together for a sustainable future

The Open Soil Index was born out of collaboration between Rabobank, insurer a.s.r. and water company Vitens to contribute to healthy farms, preservation of the value of agricultural land and affordable groundwater extraction.

“Rabobank is committed to sustainability goals, the so-called Sustainable Development Goals. As a cooperative bank, we work on solutions that are good for our customers, but also for society and the world around us. For many entrepreneurs, the bank only looked at what you produced for a long time. The more you produced, the better. Nowadays, because of sustainability, we also look at how it is done.”

“Farmers have an essential role when it comes to nature and social value. We call that the green-blue services they provide: care for nature, water quality and climate. Rabobank looks at what steps farmers are taking to make their businesses more sustainable. We reward farmers who do it well, for example with interest rate discounts.”

Plans for the future

“There are all kinds of sectors that are making strides in the area of sustainability. Provinces and water boards, for example, make subsidies available to companies that commit to nature conservation, biodiversity or water quality. But how do you make this measurable, how do you know if the steps towards sustainability are successful? That is where the Open Soil Index comes in. We then have to make sure that many more arable and dairy farms start using the standard.”

“The next step is to introduce the Open Soil Index abroad as well. We will do that mainly in countries where Rabobank is active. New Zealand, Australia and Brazil have already expressed interest.”

Jeen Nijboer and farmer walk through the fields

Experience in the field

Jeen has an agricultural background. He grew up on a dairy farm and in his early years as an account manager at Rabobank he regularly sat at the farmer’s kitchen table. As Theme Manager Sustainability Food & Agri, he now has a guiding role when it comes to policy.

“My background works to my advantage. I am good at putting myself in the shoes of all kinds of people. I know what is going on in the agricultural sector, how the government looks at it and what the interests of the bank are. With the role I have at Rabobank, I try to maintain continuity and perspective for the agricultural sector; a sector I am genuinely proud of.”

“Whether I would not rather have my feet in the clay? Being a farmer is of course still just the best profession.” Jeen says it with a big smile, but continues seriously, “But I am a connector. I make sure that people speak each other’s language; that is my strength. The Open Soil Index is an example of this. It provides a common goal, long-term perspective and clarity on how we can deal with nature in a more sustainable way.”

“At Rabobank, I use my network to bring science, the bank and farmers together. I needed the role I had and the experience I gained to make the step to where I am now. It motivates me to take the Open Soil Index further. I am convinced that by doing so, I am ultimately helping the farmers I used to visit further.”