The Agri-food-nature Transition Model (ATM) (2019-now)

We built a prototype of an open source and open data model which enables users to systemically, integrally and transparently explore the future of the Dutch agriculture, food and nature system

Agri-food-nature transition model

Download the pitch (PDF, 5MB)

Why agriculture, food and nature?

Late 2018 the Dutch Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality published its vision for the agri-food-nature system in 2030. It stated that the way we produce food now is increasingly out-of-balance and unsustainable and proposed a circular system: an integrated system with minimal unnecessary losses. Yet although this vision may promote an integrated system, the vision itself is not fully integral. It is unclear how some components are connected and it is unclear whether some ideas will not just qualitatively, but also quantitatively be possible or make sense. So how can we get better quantitative insight into what such a vision for a circular agriculture-food-nature system means for agriculture, food and nature? A possible solution would be a tool which takes into account feedstock, nutrients, energy, water and looks at agricultural production as well as consumption and all the processes and trade that happens along this chain. This is what we aim to deliver with this project.

What does the model take into account?

The model considers the complete and integral agriculture, food and nature system of The Netherlands. We have divided this into 3 perspectives or subsystems, which are connected but vary hugely. The first is that of agricultural production. Here we look at biomass production (as plants) as well as animal production. In the third perspective we look at the apparent biomass consumption, as food, energy and feedstock. And in the middle we find the processing and trade system. Within this system, the model considers (for now) key macronutrients like nitrogen and potassium, water, weather profiles, energy, emissions (carbon and nitrogen), land footprint and biodiversity, among other things.

What can the user do?

The user has full freedom to change any parameter in any direction and receives direct feedback through a dashboard with key parameters. When one opens the model, the future year at first will be like the present. Through sliders the user can then make adjustments to the system. It is possible to for instance change the number of milk cows in the Netherlands, apply grass refining, adjust our oilcrop imports or explore the impact of changes in the Dutch diet. A dashboard then informs the user on various outcomes of the system, such as national production and consumption, costs, emissions, biodiversity and many more.

Where do things stand with the prototype?

The prototype includes the aforementioned perspectives 1 and 3, so agricultural production and consumption. Agricultural production is limited to terrestrial production and consumption to food consumption (biomass for energy and feedstock are implicitly contained in the data however). The net result of perspective 2 (trade and processing) is also included. Within this scope we have a full mineral balance for nitrogen and phosphorus, as well as a partial balance for potassium and organic matter. Weather profiles (rainfall, transevaporation, air and soil temperatures) and energy consumption are included as well.

What next?

We foresee two more phases of development. This prototype can be improved and expanded to be more accurate, validated further, report in more detail and give the user more freedom and information. This gives us Version 2 of the model. Lastly, we can turn this version into an interactive online application and make it fully accessible. This version is open source, open data and free to use - it constitutes Version 3 of the ATM. This is also the point at which the ATM will be available to the public. As of Spring 2021, phase 2 of the ATM has started.