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Feed the Future: data as a foundation for circular agriculture

Our current agricultural system offers the Dutch population a wide range of food options: from eating as much as possible for as little money as possible to organic and fair trade food. The associated emissions have a major impact on the climate and the Earth. By producing differently, we can limit this damage: sustainable agriculture is the future. But how do we ensure that everyone - from the entrepreneur to the consumer - also reaps the benefits?

Circular agriculture is sustainable agriculture

In June 2019, the Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality launched a wide-ranging realisation plan with all kinds of initiatives to make our agriculture more ecologically and economically sustainable. No longer produce as cheaply as possible, but produce with as little loss of raw materials as possible and careful management of soil, water and nature. That is the core of circular agriculture, said Minister Carola Schouten at the presentation of her plan.   

Although for each of the initiatives in the realisation plan there is something to say, there is still little discussion about the possible role of data sharing. That’s remarkable. It is precisely the collection and provision of data that forms the basis for a better climate and a fairer revenue model.  


At TNO, we have been working for years to make agriculture more sustainable by means of digitisation. Circular agriculture will only be a real success in practice if the entire production chain is involved: from farmer to purchaser to retailer to consumer. With data and technology, there is something for everyone to gain. Also in the short term. We have written about this earlier in the article Financing circular agriculture with data’.

By collecting as much data as possible about all the links in the chain, you get good insight into the agricultural production chain. When the horticulturist measures how the climate in his greenhouses develops, he can adjust his cultivation strategy. Sometimes even at plant level. With real-time sensor data, we can monitor cows and thus ensure that they remain healthy and productive for longer. We do this in the Smart Dairy Farming project.    

The more detailed the data, the more specifically we can care for plants, the better we can guarantee animal welfare and the better we can reduce emissions and waste. But we also learn how to work more efficiently and where we can not only save money but have opportunities to earn extra money. In this way, the Agro sector can continue to meet the ever stricter requirements, without compromising the soundness of its operations.  

Wondering what digitalisation can mean for your company?

Contact Evert van den Akker

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Data sharing: safe and transparent sharing

Sharing data is an opportunity for companies. TNO helps partners in various sectors to use each other's data in an efficient and secure manner. We do this with, for example, blockchain technology IDS and Multi Party Computation (MPC). This enables us to make processes and products in the food industry transparent. In our system, business-sensitive information is linked to perform relevant data analyses, but without disclosing this information itself. The data is encrypted. Increasingly, this is even done automatically.


Wondering what data can mean for your company? TNO has a wealth of innovative techniques at its disposal, from which livestock farmers and greenhouse horticulturists, for example, can benefit. You can choose from various forms of collaboration to involve TNO. And together with TNO, entrepreneurs can solve concrete problems. Or you can get preliminary advice about possible improvements in business operations. Contribute to the sustainable agriculture of tomorrow and contact Evert van den Akker.


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Evert van den Akker MBA


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