Landgoed Kernhem is located in the municipality of Ede (Gelderse Valley) and consists of a country house, a few farms, park forest and a piece of Edese forest. Its history goes back to the 14th century. In the 17th century some farms were bought. One of these is the Engelenhove farm, which until recently was called Brandrood farm, after an old Dutch breed of beef and dairy cows.
This is the story of Arjan Schermer, Karina Schermer and their cheese farm at Kernhem Estate. They farmed there from 2016 to 2021, with milk from their scorching red cows. Until it didn’t work anymore. It is a tangible version of a story that is extensively discussed on Foodlog, in the trade media and not least among farmers themselves. The most topical question is whether the small-scale agriculture that citizens say they appreciate and that policymakers support with words, is technically feasible.
Ideal place with great cultural-historical value
In 2016 Arjan and his wife (in their fifties) are looking for a farm to take over. Arjan studied animal husbandry at the university of applied sciences and now wants to go into practice, after years of working in the trade in organic foods. “We sold our house and took over the Brandrood farm, with cows and all, on the beautiful Kernhem estate,” says Schermer. The municipality of Ede owns and leases the land and the farm to the couple.
The most topical question is whether the small-scale agriculture that citizens say they appreciate and that policymakers support with words, is technically feasible.
Instead of milking 100 cows as the average dairy farmer in the Netherlands does, they will make cheese with 18 fire-red cows on the small-scale, ‘nature-inclusive’ farm. They farm organically, keep the cows with horns and all and leave the calves with the mothers. Completely socially desirable and with a milk yield per cow that, at approximately 4,000 liters, lags far behind the expected 10,000+ liters of a cow at a Dutch future farmer. “And the municipality was satisfied, because they wanted the company to continue to exist,” says Schermer. After all, that was good for the cultural-historical value. They want to farm in harmony with the environment and the company is unique because of the old Dutch fire-red cows that run there. The Schermers set to work enthusiastically and at a certain point sell their cheese for the most part in the catering industry.
Three dry summers and corona
They keep some goats and donkeys and stable horses from third parties. The company is so small-scale and the business case so that nothing really can go wrong. But it does go wrong. From 2018, there are three consecutive dry summers. Schermer: “Building up a buffer for worse times was therefore not possible. The drought meant that the own land no longer produced enough nutrients for the cows. And buying organic feed was expensive because of the scarcity.” In 2020, corona will be added to this. As a result, the sale of the cheese to the catering industry will soon be cancelled, 70% of the sale.
Schermer will contact the municipality in the spring of 2020 and discuss his problems. He indicates that the rack has now been reached and wants to talk about a possible solution. However, the municipality cannot simply decide on support because it is a political decision. And in the Netherlands, companies like this have to support themselves. “How different is the situation in Austria for example,” says Schermer. “There, the government supports these small-scale companies better and consumers are moreover prepared to pay a higher price for local artisan products.” The municipality also offers no room for the development of ancillary activities.
That response hit me hard. They didn’t have much choice though
The end in sight
Of course, the Schermers farm organically, which provides some support and they also receive the regular subsidies that each farmer receives. But it is not enough to build capital and a livelihood with the small-scale company. Arjan and Karina have to adjust their business operations and will contact the municipality again in September 2020. They tell them that they want to stop milking and making cheese. With a smaller herd of bright red suckler cows, a large part of the lands under agricultural nature management and for one of them a job outside the company, a healthy new business case, they say.
But the answer from the municipality is: “If you stop milking, we will cancel the lease.”
That response hit me hard. However, they didn’t have much choice. So it happened that after less than five years on the Brandrood farm, they had to leave this beautiful place again. Schermer and his wife sell a number of animals to hobby keepers and other enthusiasts and take a number of bright red cows with them to their current residence. He now has a job again, she takes care of the cows and other animals and tries to use them in grazing projects.
Fewer animals on the Veluwe
Arjan and Karina are not bitter. They are realistic enough to see in which field of tension the municipality operates. Although he does not understand why they insisted that they continue to milk the red cows. This while the municipality later leases the farm to the company Remeker from Lunteren, which will not be milking at Engelenhove. That hurts.
What does Arjan think about the recently flared up discussion to stop livestock farming altogether in the Veluwe? He says: “You can’t just erase history. Farmers have played an important role in the design of our landscape. But we really believe in land-based livestock farming. Intensive livestock farming is not a good way for us to keep animals. So we say: there should be fewer animals. That is what politicians are saying now.”
Arjan continues: “I wish we had the opportunity to farm with, for example, 50 cows on 50 hectares. Please! But right now you need at least 100 cows to make ends meet if you’re producing for the world market. Get out of there.”
Part 2 in a few weeks, about what the Remeker company is going to do on the Kernhem estate and why the new operators think they will succeed there.