Preventing land surface subsidence for a cheese farm transitioning to a regenerative cheese farm on an island polder in Warmond with a peat-clay subsurface

By: Laura Nougues

The current industrial agricultural practices are not build to last. These are often large farms, growing the same crops year after year built only for efficiency and profit while degrading soils, water and biodiversity. This agricultural intensification is also seen within the Dutch peatland food production systems. Here, the agricultural systems deplete finite resources, make the land vulnerable to the changing climate, are monocultures and cause land subsidence.

Land subsidence in peatlands is a great issue in the polder areas of the Netherlands. When the groundwater level in a peat soil is lowered to improve loadability of the ground, the uncovered peat oxidises. This process results in land subsidence where carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane (CH4), which are initially trapped in the peat, are emitted and causes the need for further lowering of the groundwater level to once again improve surface loadability. This is a vicious cycle that has been going on for years.

But now the reliance on industrial agriculture is changing with the promise of regenerative agriculture, a process defined by the Regenerative Agriculture Initiative as “farming and grazing practices that, among other benefits, reverse climate change by rebuilding soil organic matter and restoring degraded soil biodiversity – resulting in both carbon draw down and improving the water cycle”.

For Joost van Schie, the transition from a biological cheese farm to a regenerative cheese farm has already started at his family’s cheese farm the Eenzaamheid, found in the Zwanburgerpolder, an island polder, in Warmond, the Netherlands. By 2040, Joost hopes to have developed the Eenzaamheid into a flourishing ecosystem producing regenerative cheese.

In order to make decisions about future land use, the local natural conditions must first be understood. In this study, an analysis of the current (ground)water system of the polder will be done in which the focus will be laid on preventing land subsidence, reducing CO2 and CH4 emissions, improving (ground)water quality and stimulating biodiversity. The current situation will be modelled in iMOD after which two future scenarios will be compared: 1) the base scenario in which no changes will have been made compared to the current 2021 model and 2) the adapted scenario in which measures will have been taken in preventing land surface subsidence.