Yasmine Cathell – Deep nutrition research on a 350 hectare commercial arable farm, everything from counting worms to sap analysis

A conversation with Yasmine Cathell, Nutrition Project Manager at Soil Heroes Foundation, about her journey into regenerative agriculture, and her MBA studies until her cutting-edge nutrient density research in the south of Rotterdam, the Netherlands, on a large commercial potato, onion, and wheat farm.


This episode is part of the Nutrient Density in Food series!
This series is supported by the A Team Foundation, who support food and land projects that are ecologically, economically and socially conscious. They contribute to the wider movement that envisions a future where real food is produced by enlightened agriculture and access to it is equal. The A Team are looking to make more investments and grants in the space of bionutrients. You can find out more on ateamfoundation.org.

How a journey stumbling on regenerative agriculture way back in 2006 at a restaurant sourcing from Polyface farm and Joel Salatin led to permaculture, agroforestry in Mozambique, an MBA and now manifests itself into cutting edge nutrient density research.


Under Jill Clapperton’s guidance and experience, Soil Heroes Foundation is looking into nutrition and nutrient cycling, and defining what to look at. They are doing proof of practice, something that’s important to understand as opposed to a scientific research project. Being a proof of practice means that they are demonstrating for other farmers to be able to come and see for themselves.

‘’How the nutrients make it from the soil into the plant. They’re absorbed, but then how does that plant decide which of those nutrients are going to go into the final crop, for example, or in the leaf, or maybe stay in the root zone? And that’s really fascinating. That’s really what the farmer wants to know, is how to better understand sort of the cycling, and then how do we optimize for it.’’ – Yasmine Cathell

‘’You can look at what we’re doing on the research trials, and then based on results that we’re seeing there, you can then decide to optimize for his, I don’t know, let’s say 80 hectares of wheat. […] But he can take these test plots and see what observations we’re finding, and then use the learnings from that to go and take action in the field. And this is huge in agriculture because so often, research goes on and goes on and goes on. And sometimes it’s in its own little world in the academic world. And then it gets written up in a paper, beautiful paper, maybe it gets published. But before that information is able to reach the farmer on the ground, a lot of time passes, and sometimes it never makes it to where it can be actioned. And so that was a really big difference of what we’re doing.’’ – Yasmine Cathell


The study’s purpose is to see what management practices have an influence on the nutrient density of a final crop, but really trying to understand what is going on in terms of the nutrient cycling, from a farmer’s perspective and how can they affect that. What management practices are going to have more of an influence or less they don’t know yet, but are really excited to find out.

”You have the ability to look at the regenerative side but also see the conventional side. And so that’s one of the things that makes this study so unique is that we have the ability to have both of those in the same place. And so we can look at them side by side.” – Yasmine Cathell

”I would say it’s also unique because… so, you’ve got the large size farm, you’ve got the pioneering farmers who are willing to take risks, who have taken risks, who are willing to share the good, the bad, and the ugly, what worked and what didn’t work. So, it’s really specific also the context that we’re in, which is the Netherlands. So for Dutch farmers. And one of the things that I think is really interesting that we’re doing is we’re also looking at, okay, what would a Dutch farmer here based on certain regulations be able to grow or not able to grow?” – Yasmine Cathell


According to Yasmine, it’d be really exciting to have more people in different parts of the world doing similar research, because they’re just one study and can only be looking to a certain extent, and there’s so much more information left to unlock. ‘Why do we grow food? The purpose of agriculture is to nourish our bodies.’

”We don’t know if we influenced that, we don’t know if it just so happened that there was a bacterial community that was really good at unlocking certain types of nutrients that were in that soil that you happen to be feeding incidentally with your cover crop […] We don’t know the mechanics of how to get to this end result.”

”…food that is able to nourish the human body. So, even taking a step back […] what happened with the industrial revolution in terms of agriculture, we didn’t optimize for nourishing food, we optimized for yield and only yields. And we didn’t know any better than that, we assumed, falsely, that the amount of nutrition in that apple was going to be the same if you had produced twice as many of them or not. And I think that that was okay then because we didn’t know any better. But the difference is that we know better now. And yet we are not growing food for nourishment, still, we’re still stuck in that old paradigm of growing for yield.”


Koen and Yasmine also talked about:

  • What are the baseline parameters for nutrient cycling?
  • What’s the process of getting the data?
  • Investing in human capital




Feedback, comments, suggestions? Reach me via Twitter @KoenvanSeijen, in the comments below or through Get in Touch on this website.

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The above references an opinion and is for information and educational purposes only. It is not intended to be investment advice. Seek a duly licensed professional for investment advice.

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