The Wageningen institute for agrotechnical research, ATO-DLO, is one of the most rapidly growing research organisations in Europe. Since its inception in 1990, the ATO research budget has grown annually by twenty to thirty percent and the number of researchers has increased from ninety to five hundred. Its director, Albert Eenink, is responsible for this. His secret: We started at zero and asked ourselves what the demands of the market were." The research focus changed rapidly from agriculture to the non-food industry. Business units within the institute, comprising forty to eighty people, have to show a profits each year. If not, we reorganise them. As a result, the organisation of the institute is continuously changing." Scientists at the university give full credit to Eenink, but question whether the institute is engaged in sufficient fundamental research to stay on top of the research market in future. Eenink responds by pointing out that the institute produces a couple of hundred publications each year and refers to the reasonably positive review of a recent international visiting committee.
Market research is not the same as marketing, says Thieu Meulenberg, who recently retired as professor in Market Research at the WAU. His field of science is becoming increasingly important, as the food supply in Europe outweighs consumer demand. In order to market new products and open up new markets, cooperation between companies in food chains is very important, says Meulenberg, especially if environmental and health aspects are the selling points. Environmental friendliness is often marketed by using stamps guaranteeing quality. The problem is that these products are more expensive, but too serious. Shopping is fun, whereas ecological products tend to labour the point of social responsibility for the consumer."
Think-tanks composed of leading professors and directors are discussing the future of Wageningen Agricultural University and the DLO institutes of agricultural research. The research groups of these two organisations will have to merge in one way or another, but will there be a distinct position for education in the new knowledge centre? Some want to involve DLO researchers in the MSc education, others want a separate group of professional teachers to be responsible for Wageningen education. The Dutch Ministry of Agriculture is looking for creative ideas about the coming merger. You might be able to come up with something as well.
The municipality of Wageningen and the WAU are aiming at an improved exchange of knowledge. A nice start would be to improve the water quality in the town. The municipality is trying to increase the amount of oxygen in pond water by using fountains, but these are only operational during daytime. This is counterproductive, says Sietse Leenstra, the manager of the university's fish ponds. The municipality is in fact lowering the oxygen level and should only use the fountains at night, when the algae in the water need oxygen, says Leenstra.