At the age of 25, Teunis Jacob (TJ) took over the dairy farm from his father. Since then, TJ is continuously adapting. While enjoying a homemade chili-con-carne source from their own oxen, we discussed TJ's experiences and his vision for the future.
Teunis Jacob is a remarkably positive character and so is his wife, Nelie, ‘You can complain, but it is so much more fun to find solutions’.
The land-exchange program at the time allowed TJ to step in the company at a reasonable price. Over the course of the last decades he has more than doubled the size of the farm (from 25 to 68ha) and changed the herd from Holstein to Blaarkop. The change in cattle means less milk, but the new breed is better for meat and a better fit with the grass he grows. "I always believed more in the value of land than in milk quota, and I looking back, I think I was right", TJ explains.
TJ has also made the choice to switch from conventional to organic farming. "The reason for change was pragmatic. We had started to work with the concept of ‘agricultural nature management’ (agrarisch natuurbeheer), gradually we saw the market opportunities to produce and sell organic."
Preparing for succession
5 years ago TJ started to prepare for succession. "I am a believer in collaboration, we have good contacts with all neighbouring farmers and help each other and share machinery. Rokus (29) came to help me on Saturdays since he was 12 years old. In 2013 when he had finished his Higher Agricultural College we took him into the partnership together with my wife and one of my daughters. We do not yet know how it will work out exactly, but it is a good thing to prepare succession. Although…I don’t want to think about stopping.’
At the dinner table, I briefly talked to one of TJ's daughters, who is studying to become a school teacher. I teasingly said "Finally long holidays" and then turned to Rokus asking ‘and you are going to be a farmer with no holidays at all?’ He responded "Every day is holiday for me. I have so much freedom that it feels like being off. In my job as a consultant I had much more stress finish things for others."
Change takes a generation
After dinner the conversation went on till late in the evening. We went on about changing agricultural practice, the need to balance inputs and outputs rather than maximizing the yield per animal, the need to adapt to climate change and the need to know much more about soil biology, rather than merely some NPK-chemistry. TJ said ‘Change takes a generation, I learned. When I started, the nature conservation people were our competitors, but now we have become allies. I have even accepted a role on the board of Zuid-Hollands Landschap (Nature conservation organisation) . That was impossible 25 years ago.’
TJ could sell his farm today, and live like a millionaire. "Why not sell it?", I ask. "Because this is what I want to do. It still feels like playing. I would be very unhappy without the farm".