Fascinating creates agricultural sector of the future in northern Netherlands
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Fascinating creates agricultural sector of the future in northern Netherlands

Plant proteins appear to hold more and more keys to the food future. They can serve as meat substitutes and are an answer to climate change and promoting biodiversity. They have the potential to promote human health and eventually even serve the chemical and energy sectors.

The Fascinating program (Food Agro Sustainable Circular Nature Technology in Groningen) delves into all these opportunities. Based on one conviction: we will only get this major transition off the ground if we do it together. The program brings parties, knowledge, money and ambition together in an unprecedented way.

Large companies such as Avebe, Cosun, Friesland Campina and Agrifirm are contributing, the University of Groningen Medical Center is thinking and participating, LTO-Noord is involved, the provinces are behind it, education is at the table, larger and smaller companies from the chemical sector and the energy sector too.

Answer questions

Fascinating answers a series of pressing questions, explains Tjeerd Jongsma. He is director of the Institute for Sustainable Process Technology (ISPT) and also the pen captain of the project being rolled out in the northern Netherlands. 'How do we get more nutrients in our food to stay healthy longer? How do we make the translation to our agricultural system, in harmony with nature and without emissions of CO2 and nitrogen? What technology can we use to retain and use more nutrients in processing?'

These questions are so wide-ranging that they cannot be answered except in consultation with a great many companies, institutes, institutions and governments. And that is exactly what is happening in the Northern Netherlands. 'The whole chain from field to consumer has to be changed. That we are now doing that on a small scale here is very special. We are realizing the building sector of the future: a circular
system that balances sustainability, nature, healthy food and economic impact.'

Knowledge about and applications of vegetable proteins play a major role in the program. In the northern Netherlands, potato processor Avebe and dairy giant Friesland Campina have been working on this for some time. Sugar producer Cosun is on the same track, as is Agrifirm. They are all working to enrich and 'harvest' proteins, and to apply them as efficiently as possible.

Open innovation platform

'That they are now doing this together is really special. But we want to involve many more parties. We are an open innovation platform, we invite everyone to think and participate. We need entrepreneurship, creativity and brainpower, because there are a lot of challenges. The farmer has to adapt his crop, researchers have to make inventions, buyers have to get interested, consumers have to want to go along. There is work to be done in all those links, every link will benefit directly from what we come up with and try out with Fascinating.'

The companies and governments together are investing over 20 million euros for the first three years. Much more will be added later, and Europe is watching. Jongsma: "These are developments that take time, such a transition is not easily achieved. We have only just begun. We have formulated the subprojects and have sown our first trial fields.' Harvesting will come later.

'We focus on the global transitions more sustainable, healthier and smarter. So it makes perfect sense that we wholeheartedly support a project like Fascinating. We link startups and scale-ups that can play a role in this to the project. We also ensure a connection to projects and programs outside the North. Within the national ROM network, there is also a lot to do together.'
Dina Boonstra, director NOM

'Connecting is not just introducing interested parties to each other. We want to understand what added value the connection can start to bring. To do that, we are having extensive conversations with the program leaders in Fascinating and with companies and organizations that could enhance the program.'
Alex Berhitu, Business Developer NOM

'What we as Cosun want to achieve with Fascinating in the Northern Netherlands is to be able to take the next step more quickly in our ambition to enter the market with the production and sale of vegetable protein and thus realize an additional earnings model for our members/beet growers of the cooperative including our beet growers in the Groningen countryside.'
Teun van der Weg, Innovation Manager Cosun Beet Company

'In agriculture and industry, very big challenges are coming our way at the moment. They range from energy and CO2 and water for the factories to nitrate concentrations in the groundwater and biodiversity for cultivation. In addition, we have a wonderful opportunity to give vegetable protein a serious boost. Fascinating is a unique 'cooperation' of cooperatives together with the province, RUG and LTO to find and realize solutions bigger than Avebe can handle alone.'
Peter-Erik Ywema, Director Sustainability Avebe