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23 May 2023 written by Roger Engelberts

New soil for our old soul

The unique story of AgriFood Land van Cuijk begins on the region’s sandy soils. A soil that – in the long run - provides the perfect fertile ground on which to create an ecosystem built on animal & plant power protein. With global impact. This is also where Wimke de Körver’s (Wim Hendrix) story starts. Wim, businessman and historical hero, stands with a bucket (a korf) on his back. He knew the WHY behind his business: striving for prosperity and wellbeing. He dared to look beyond what others had seen, and was not afraid to look at the world from a new perspective. “The money’s there for the taking. Scoop up the horse manure from the street, package it, and sell it as garden fertiliser.”

A vision with result Wimke’s legacy includes the current businesses of Nutreco (chicken feed at that time) and Intervet (currently known as MSD Animal Health). It is because of these companies that machine manufacturer Marel (processing machines for poultry) came to Land van Cuijk. This cluster of companies has given our region an enormous economic impulse. Unfortunately, Wimke’s son sold the whole company in 1979 for almost Dutch guilder to the English company BP Nutrition.

The future of food now requires a new vision, and we can envision it here in the biggest municipality of Brabant: Land van Cuijk, Protein Transition Valley. A fast growing global population will increase the consumption of proteins. The pincode of the world is changing rapidly. Our world population today: 1 billion people in Europe, 1 billion in North- and South America, 1 billion in Africa and 4 billion in Asia. The code is 1114. In the year 2050, this will be 1125. In 2070, it will be 1145. No, we’re not going feed all these hungry mouths as Land van Cuijk, but at least we have the knowledge, the experience and the applied science to help the world.

Land van Cuijk, Protein Valley, can benefit from this development. But to do so, we must learn to innovate & cooperate again! Not only the Big 5 (Danone, Hendrix Genetics, Nutreco, Marel and MSD Intervet) who stay in their silo’s, but also newly formed startups and (short) chains with new business models. And – on a bigger scale – cross-sector innovations on new issues like health and other societal values. This provides an enabling environment for experimentation and a stepping stone for innovation that creates triple value: economical, ecological and societal.

The starting position for Land van Cuijk to transition into Protein Valley is exceptional. Agrifood is the engine for the local economy. Every actor within the chain is present: from farm to fork, from cowshed to supermarket shelf. Over 1,500 companies are active within agrifood, with more than 11,000 employees. Besides that, The Big Five have a combined turnover of more than €10 billion and provide over 10,000 jobs globally. Land van Cuijk is a global leader in agrifood: 20% of the national 130 billion euro of added value from agri and food is generated here! Roughly half of all chickens worldwide has its gene-heritage in Boxmeer. That’s right, from the head office of Hendrix Genetics aptly called ‘’Villa De Korver’’. 

The infrastructure and context for Land van Cuijk: Protein Valley are already in place. Now, it’s just a matter of bringing talent and opportunities together as we transition towards a Caring, Sustainable, Fully-fledged agrifood sector. We will turn existing food chains upside down, starting with the consumer. New cross-overs and a vision based on societal challenges as a mirror for innovation space in agri and food are necessary. This is the century of the consumer. Companies that don’t add value or aren’t transparent will disappear. Land van Cuijk will set the scene for a future-ready agrifood economy.

What scene?

Firstly quality, nutrition value, added value and health instead of empty calories., Food must not be cheaper in The Netherlands, nor more efficient or faster. We are on a dead-end road of upscaling and cost(price) reduction. Farmers need to run their businesses from a business model based on quality and added value instead of quantity and cost price. With greater consideration for the environment, and demonstrating more empathy to society. As an entrepreneur, I am more interested in increasing profits instead of lower cost price. Are you supplying raw materials for energy, or energy for a better quality of life?

We need to transition from operational excellence to product innovation. Think differently. The farmer is a food producer. Think in terms of consumption; not production. Look beyond your own borders and turn your gaze to the environment around you. Engage. Work on solutions together. Invest in youth. It will cost money, but failing to invest will cost much, much more. We need to act.

We must be faithful to Wimke de Körver. a century later, and repeat Wimke’s trick: use our common sense, make the most out of every opportunity, and achieve growth within our own region. You achieve this by focussing on new, regional connections and new crossovers between different market segments like agri, food & health.

Another important notion in Land van Cuijk is the familial nature of agrifood businesses. Family businesses are the cornerstone of the local and the regional economy. It’s all about traditional skills, new connections and confidence. Family businesses are the foundation of progress, even more so than the Big Five. The family business is the accelerator of the region’s growth. Growth is achieved by searching for answers to society’s questions about food, health and pharmaceutics. The answers are essential for a sustainable society, and for employment. We are looking for new heroes. A new generation of Wimke de Körvers.

The times are changing. Encourage and invest in new heroes as entrepreneurs. Develop strength. I believe in AgriFood Land van Cuijk. Protein Valley. I believe that, in 2030, we will be the Smartest & Healthiest Agrifood Region in the World.

Land van Cuijk, do what Wimke de Körver did. Stop talking about it, but make a start. This is about applied knowledge. It’s the new soil in our old soul. Let’s run this race.

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