Sustainable dairy farming


Participation in sustainability programme

The Dutch Dairy Association (Nederlandse Zuivel Organisatie, NZO) and the Dutch Federation of Agriculture and Horticulture (Land en Tuinbouw Organisatie, LTO) have formulated ambitious goals for 2020 within the Dutch Sustainable Dairy Chain collaboration
Vreugdenhil is translating these goals into a sustainability programme in which we reward our 825 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 2018, 84.7% of the dairy farmers received a sustainability incentive premium. In 2017 this was 76%. The increase may be explained by additional communication, inter alia through the dairy farmers’ magazine, supplier meetings and the company visits made by our district advisers. Dairy farmers received a reward for such aspects as increasing the lifespan of their cows, efficient energy consumption, generating renewable energy, biodiversity efforts, land-related activities, involving the community, and implementing the KoeKompas (Cow Compass). The programme for 2019 will be virtually identical to 2018. In 2019 an additional reward will be implemented based on calf health.

Lowering greenhouse gas emissions on the farm

Most greenhouse gas emissions in our value chain originate on the farm. This is partly due to the methane emissions of cows, but also to the use of fossil fuels. We aim to reduce the emission of greenhouse gases by awarding an incentive premium for low energy consumption and by generating renewable energy. In 2018, 9.2% of dairy farmers generated at least 50% of their electricity consumption themselves sustainably. In 2017, the figure was 7%. This means we just missed our target of 10%, but it is within reach for 2019. Over 69% of dairy farmers used a maximum of 70 kWh per thousand kilograms of milk. In 2017, that figure was 66%. Our ambition for 2019 is 70%. In 2017 the sector developed a calculation model for dairy farmers with which they can calculate their total greenhouse gas emissions. This provides a more complete picture than the energy scan, and is also filled in by all dairy farmers. The results for 2018 will not be published until 2019. We have committed to the following goals for 2020 as part of the sustainable dairy chain: 20% reduction of greenhouse gases in comparison to 1990 and 16% sustainable energy. The latest results were reported by the Sustainable Dairy Chain in its 2017 sector report.

Care from calf to cow

Dairy farmers care for their animals 24/7. In order to improve the cows’ welfare continuously, they have been using the KoeKompas tool for a number of years. This is an instrument with which veterinarians map the welfare and health of the animals and advise on improvement steps twice a year. In 2018 a new tool was introduced with which dairy farmers can see based on company-specific key indicators where the strong points and points for improvement are for the company. The key indicators used for this are e.g. animal sickness charts and use of medicines. Based on these indicators the tool returns a KalfOk score. In 2018, 500 dairy farmers used this instrument by choice. In 2019, there will be a financial reward for good KalfOk-scores.

Outdoor grazing

Our outdoor grazing rate increased in 2018 by almost 0.6% to 88.1% in comparison with 2017. The Dutch average is 82%. This means that we have realised the national target of 81.2% from the 2012 Outdoor Grazing Covenant. The grazing percentage is calculated by adding up the number of dairy farmers with partial and full outdoor grazing. Full grazing means that the dairy cows are out of doors for a minimum of six hours a day and at least 120 days a year (or minimum 720 hours per year, over a minimum of 120 days). For partial grazing, a minimum of 25% of the cattle must be allowed to graze for a minimum of 120 days.

Outdoor grazing rate:

2015: 86.0%
2016: 85.6%
2017: 87.5%
2018: 88.1% 

Phosphate reduction versus lifespan

In 2018, the lifespan of our dairy farmers' cows fell by 6 days in comparison to 2017, to five years, eight months and 7 days. This lifespan is 48 days longer than the national average. The decrease in the past two years was partly caused by the statutory obligation set by the government to reduce phosphate production. The phosphate reduction regulations (2017) 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 to retain 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. To stay below this ceiling, cows may have been slaughtered earlier over the past two years than if there had been no limit. In 2018, the phosphate rights system was introduced. Based on the results, the Netherlands has again been granted a derogation from the European Commission for 2018 and 2019.

Improving biodiversity

Our dairy farmers live with and for nature. For animal feed they are highly dependent on the climate and the fertility of the soil. They want to keep these optimal in the long term, and that requires sustainable land management. Many dairy farmers are aware of this and contribute to agrarian natural conservation. This includes meadow bird management, natural preservation or investing in landscape elements. 58.8% of our dairy farmers takes extra measures to increase biodiversity.