Get to know Jeroen Neuckermans: the new director of Eurofins Agro Testing Belgium
19 September 2023
“We must shift the focus of policies in Belgium from fertilizer management to soil health management”
Jeroen Neuckermans (36) started in his role as managing director of Eurofins Agro Testing Belgium this summer. Neuckermans is a familiar face as he has worked at Eurofins Agro in Belgium since 2013. The time has come to get to know him better.
By Florentine Jagers
On a sunny day, I meet with Jeroen Neuckermans in one of the meeting rooms in Wageningen as the afternoon is drawing to a close. Neuckermans opens the window first and pours a glass of water. “I just have to stretch my legs,” he says. “It's been a busy day. Talking through the plans, making appointments, meeting new people. All very functional, but it’s time for a break." But he doesn't really pause for a breather. As a true people person, Neuckermans wants to ask me a few things before the interview starts. Have I have been on holiday and do I live in Wageningen?
The new managing director has been in meetings since the early morning. He arrived in Wageningen the evening before. As director of Eurofins Agro Testing Belgium, these long days will become part of his routine. “Yes, it’s certainly a little hectic. I thought it through well with my wife when I was approached about taking this position. We have two children aged four and two. Children are only young for such a short while. We weighed everything up and decided that I should take this opportunity. My wife is a preschool teacher so she is at home quite a lot, and that made the choice easier. I am really looking forward to this new challenge."
That sounds ambitious. What are your goals for Eurofins Agro in Belgium?
“That's right,” he says. “I am very committed and driven and highly value our clients.” The new director knows what he's talking about. He continues: “I have worked for this company since 2013. I experienced the whole integration path of LZV, Altic and BLGG, and then the transition to Eurofins. Before then, I worked elsewhere as a lab sampler and as part of the customer service team. And I started helping out on a dairy farm in the village we lived in when I was about eight years old. So I have grassroots agricultural experience. That's a huge advantage. I know what's going on and speak the language of farmers."
Neuckermans’ enthusiasm is obvious: “Agriculture is an amazing sector. But it faces challenges that need resolving. Take the question of nitrogen, for example. It is a pressing issue in Belgium, just like in the Netherlands. European legislation is hanging above farmers like a thundercloud. We must shift the focus of policies from from fertilizer management to soil health management. That demands changes to how we think and act. As a laboratory, we can play a vital role in this respect.”
Can you explain?
“Healthy soil forms the foundation for healthy and sustainable agriculture. You have to examine all aspects of the soil and not just a few parameters, such as nitrogen and phosphate. Until now, this was too often neglected in Belgium.
Our Soil Health Solutions are an indispensable tool for soil management. This analysis delivers a wealth of data on soil health but to fully utilise this data, you need knowledge and expertise. And that's what is lacking sometimes. I see an essential role for Eurofins. We can deliver more than just numbers, as we see explanation and advice as an integral part of the picture. We intend to provide this in various ways – through newsletters and meetings, and in talks with many stakeholders in the industry."
So Eurofins and farmers will be joining forces?
He nods: “As I see it, that is the way forward. A new generation of farmers is emerging who are true entrepreneurs. They apply data-driven farming. I recently visited a farmer with 700 hectares of land. When I drove into the yard, I noticed a sign hanging at the entrance: ‘A carbon farmer lives here’. That’s a brilliant attitude. Farms like that represent the future. They already work using Eurofins data and profit from all the benefits.
And don’t forget the horticultural sector either. Growers also play a key role in producing sustainable food. I firmly believe in innovations like vertical farming and hydroponics."
He gives a brief explanation: “At a vertical farm, fruit and vegetables are produced on vertically stacked layers in a closed environment under artificial light and use water instead of soil-based systems. Hydroponics involves growing crops on water, including all systems outside and in greenhouses. For example, you can grow leeks free from the soil. Growing vegetables like this is a clean and highly efficient process. But it requires precision control of nutrients and fertilisers and careful attention to prevent diseases from entering the system. Eurofins also offers various analyses for these cultivation systems."
Neuckermans is devoting his full attention to the introduction of Soil Health Solutions and the solutions for horticulture. But good progress in many other areas has also been made recently in Belgium. The integration of laboratory methods and the administrative documents into the Eurofins systems is an obvious example.
What are the benefits of the Eurofins network?
Neuckermans takes another sip of water. “My predecessor Jan Bakker spent plenty of time and energy integrating Eurofins Belgium into the systems of Eurofins Scientific. Very important, but also very complex! The integration process has now been successfully completed with immense benefits.
For instance, we can now offer all Eurofins analyses via ‘one-stop shopping’. In other words, we provide an integrated chain solution. It was always rather a grey area for clients. When did you need Eurofins Agro, and when did you need Eurofins Food? Take dairy farming, for example. We now provide a full range of tests for farmers; from soil, fresh grass and forage testing to milk analysis. We also offer a similar range for greenhouse growers, from water analysis to residue testing.
This simplifies matters for farmers and growers. They now have a single contact and there are no longer three different Eurofins vans arriving to collect samples."
You have worked for Eurofins Agro Belgium for over ten years. As director, do you plan to change things?
“No, I am not going to do it any differently,” he emphasises. But he does have plans: “We will focus on further growth and development. I think it is very important that our data can be accessed more easily by clients using a digital platform. I want to work on this aspect in cooperation with Wageningen University & Research.
And yes, it’s an ambitious goal. In Belgium we have a small team that I certainly want to expand. But with the right people, we can take on a lot!"
Do you have any time for hobbies?
“Not much on weekdays. If I do have some time, I like to play petanque - a game similar to bowls. I have to admit that I’m quite a serious player. It clears my head. And there is also a great social aspect. We recently organized a major petanque tournament in our village with over 200 participants. The game attracts all walks of life so you hear about the concerns people have and what’s going on. That is vital for my work. And, of course, I like to spend as much time as possible with my children at the weekend.
I hardly ever get round to reading a book or watching a film. I was recently given the book 'Hostage at the Table'. That will be in my suitcase when I go on holiday. The book is about change and how to progress by removing the blocks formed by existing beliefs. It sounds very exciting!"
The building has now fallen silent. We walk around and take some photos. When we have finished, Neuckermans opens his laptop for a while. “I have to answer a few e-mails,” he smiles. Then he will return to Belgium, where the children will already have been in bed for a long time. He plans to have some fun with them at the weekend.