Key people: Joost Rijk

Joost Rijk - Farm of the Future and the Agroecology & Technology Field Lab.
Text: Marieke Enter Photo: Guy Ackermans

They are indispensable at WUR locations: the cleaners, caretakers, caterers, gardeners, assistants – the list is long. Resource seeks out these key people. This time, meet Joost Rijk (28), manager at the Farm of the Future and the Agroecology & Technology Field Lab in Lelystad.

‘Every Monday morning one of the researchers and I make a round of the fields to decide what needs doing that week. I often make a quick phone call during the week as well, and we sometimes have to adjust our plans as we go along. We are working with nature, of course, with the seasons. Particularly at this time of year, the weather is a very decisive factor for the state of the crops.

We regularly do things no one’s ever done before

My father thinks that has an almost therapeutic effect. He does have a point: you do your best to create optimal growth conditions but you can’t control everything. You might have irrigated yesterday, for instance, and then today an unexpected shower brings 40 millimetres of water. Yup, it happens. But if it does, your potatoes are waterlogged.

‘The Farm of the Future covers 22 hectares on which we grow seven different crops: barley, wheat, broad beans, potatoes, onions, carrots and mixes of grass and clover. The field lab is bigger: 60 hectares. There we grow the same mix as well as cabbage, alfalfa, green beans and oats. Altogether, it makes for quite a diverse range of crops, with different times for sowing, fertilizing, weeding and other work for each crop. We’ve got a close-knit team of six people who do that work. I may be the manager but I work alongside my colleagues rather than above them. We’ve got to get the job done together – partly because it really isn’t an option to outsource it. The contractors’ machinery is far too big and heavy for our system of tracks, with which we want to avoid compacting the soil.

‘Of course I feel under pressure at times –quite a lot of eyes are on us. As pioneers of the agriculture of the future, we regularly do things no one’s ever done before, and not everything is a success. But it’s better to have a disappointment here at the pioneering stage than later when the whole agriculture sector is using the method in question. I try to emphasize that on Twitter too, when I share our results. I enjoy being a bit provocative. I see it as all part of my job to talk to people about what we are working on and the future of agriculture.’

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