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Sustainable dairy farming

 

Participation in sustainability programme

The Dutch Dairy Association (Nederlandse Zuivel Organisatie, NZO for short) and the Dutch Federation of Agriculture and Horticulture (Land en Tuinbouw Organisatie, LTO for short) have formulated ambitious goals for 2020 within the Dutch Sustainable Dairy Chain collaboration (www.duurzamezuivelketen.nl). Vreugdenhil is translating these goals into a sustainability programme in which we reward our 850 Dutch dairy farmers for sustainability efforts. To receive financial remuneration a dairy farmer must score a minimum of five out of twelve programme points. Every extra effort is recognised by means of a financial reward of up to €0.60 per 100 kg of milk. In 2017, 76% of the dairy farmers received a sustainability incentive premium. In 2016 this was 72%. Dairy farmers received a reward for such aspects as increasing the lifespan of cows, efficient energy consumption, generating renewable energy, biodiversity efforts, land-related activities, involving the community and implementing the KoeKompas (Cow Compass). KoeKompas is an instrument with which veterinarians map the welfare and health of the animals and advise on improvement steps twice a year. Based on consultations with dairy farmers from the focus group, it has been decided to keep the sustainability programme for 2018 at the same level as in 2017.

 

Lowering greenhouse gas emissions on the farm

Greenhouse gas emissions from the production of milk powder are mainly caused on the farm, resulting from methane emissions from cattle and, to a lesser extent, the use of fossil fuels such as electricity and diesel. We aim to reduce the emission of greenhouse gases by awarding an incentive premium for low energy consumption and the generation of renewable energy. In 2017, 7% of dairy farmers generated at least 50% of their electricity consumption themselves sustainably. Our goal was 10%. And 67% of dairy farmers used a maximum of 70 kWh per thousand kilograms of milk. Our goal was 60%. In 2018, we will be introducing a calculation model for dairy farmers with which they can calculate their total greenhouse gas emission, including methane emissions.We have also committed to the following goals for 2020 as part of the sustainable dairy chain: 20% reduction in greenhouse gases in 2020 compared to 1990 and climate-neutral growth and 16% renewable energy.

 


Dilemma: manure fermentation versus grazing

In 2017, the lifespan of our dairy farmers' cows fell by 67 days in comparison to 2016, to a little over five years and eight months. The lifespan is, however, 45 days longer than the national average. The fall was caused in part by the choice concerning the dilemma: reducing phosphate versus increasing lifespan. The phosphate reduction regulations are the result of agreements made earlier with Brussels to remain below the phosphate ceiling of a 172.9 million kg, one of the conditions for the Netherlands retaining derogation. Derogation is an exceptional position where, on certain conditions, farmers are permitted to use more nitrogen from animal manure on a hectare of forage pasture. Based on the preliminary figures, it appears we are attaining that goal. However, it did bring about a reduction in the lifespan of cows. Companies that grew in recent years, had to surrender cattle. Consequently, it is possible that animals were slaughtered earlier than in a normal situation. We foresee the lifespan rising after 2017 and we feel that our long-term lifespan goal for 2020 (6 years and 73 days) is realistic.

 

Involving the community

One of the elements of the sustainability programme is involving the community in the farming sector. In 2017, 42% of our dairy farmers welcomed ten or more people from the community on their farm more than twice. They explained how a healthy product like milk is produced with due care for the animals.

 

"By involving the people from the community in your business, you can contribute to the awareness of where food is produced.It's great that Vreugdenhil rewards this financially and helps with promotional materials, such as booklets with puzzles for the children."

Agnes Jongman, dairy farmer

Organic milk powder

In 2017, we started the production of organic milk powder, partly in response to a request from customers.