Circular Way of Farming

Saturday 14 July – Southern tour

As the world population grows, we need to be aware of how we use available resources to feed all the people. Sustainability is a growing concern to the Dutch consumer, forcing production chains to take responsibility. The opinion of Dutch consumers, sometimes filtered by NGO’s and/or retail chains, matters for the agricultural production chain in the Netherlands. It’s their license to produce. So how does the Dutch food production chain respond to these challenges?

The one-day tour Circular Way of Farming took us to a pig farming business and an arable crop farmer. They address the challenges they face to meet growing consumer demands in Dutch society and focus on the solutions they found for their business to move forward.

We visited a family-owned pig business with locations in the Netherlands and Germany. The two brothers and sister who own the company, strive to make their business profitable within the growing demands from society. To do this, they focus on circularity within their pig business, but also work together in the production chain, e.g. with the slaughterhouse Vion, and outside the chain, with a manure processor in the region.

Furthermore, we visited an arable crop farm that is one of the first to grow soy under Dutch circumstances. The soy finds its way into the food chain. Besides soy, the farmers have a variable cropping plan. The main aim is to take care of the soil as best they can in order to provide the next users of the soil with the best circumstances for the next crops. Good soil is the basic need for any production system.

Van Asten Group

The Van Asten Group is a family-owned, international pig producer with headquarters based in the south of The Netherlands. The Van Asten family attaches great importance to sustainable entrepreneurship. The development of the company has evolved around high standard pigs. Health and quality are key for Van Asten, who produces piglets, sows and finishing pigs for the Dutch and German market. Vion Food Group is one of the slaughterhouses the Van Asten Group uses to bring its pig meat to the markets. The Van Asten Group holds four locations in The Netherlands and four in Germany, in the province of Thuringia.

Sustainability and corporate social responsibility are the main drivers for the family business run by two brothers and a sister. Important aspects of the company are animal health, innovation and quality. Besides this the entrepreneurs also focus on renewable energy for their business. To this end they invested in bioenergy and solar energy.

Furthermore they look into the possibilities of the sustainable use of the bioenergy end product, the organic manure. As a result, they decided to invest in a new initiative in the region: Zevencellen, a bio-based centre with the goal to add value to the end product of the bioenergy plants.

Managing board

  • Roland van Asten, director Germany
  • Marko van Asten, director Netherlands
  • Monique van Asten, general manager Germany

Key figures

  • Sows: 22,000
  • Finishing pigs: 68,000

Annual sales

  • Piglets: 420,000
  • Finishing pigs: 204,000
  • Breeding gelts: 14,000

Annual turnover: € 60,106

Energy production

  • Biogas: 4,000 kWe (NL) + 4,000 kWe (DE)
  • Solar energy: 1 MW peak (NL) + 2490 kWp (DE)

Vion Food Group

Vion is an international producer of pork and beef with production locations in the Netherlands and Germany, and sales support offices all over the world. Within the division Pork, we process roughly 300,000 pigs a week. In 2017, Vion Pork achieved a net turnover of over € 3.4 billion.

From production locations in the Netherlands and Germany, the company delivers fresh pork and pork products to national and international retail, foodservice and processed meat industries. Basic raw materials are delivered to industrial customers who process it into a wide range of meat products. On top of this, Vion processes fresh pork into semi-finished and finished products for the domestic and export retail market.

To address consumer demands, different animal production systems have been put into place, many of which result in their own brand or label in the grocery store. Vion Food Group is one of the major players with regard to meat production for different retail labels and brands. Vion Food Group specializes in pigs and beef. Pig meat is sold via many different brands and labels, all meeting different consumer demands.

As a company, the Vion Food Group also recognizes its corporate social responsibility of which respecting animal welfare and a sustainable environment are main pillars. On this Circular Way of Farming tour you will learn about the challenges of meeting consumer demands via different brands and labels, but also gain insight into the sustainability efforts Vion Food Group is putting into place for its own business.

Key figures

World bio-based Center Zevenellen (WBC 7LL)

The Netherlands is renowned for its efforts with regard to sustainable agriculture. The World Bio-based Centre Zevenellen (WBC 7LL) is an innovative initiative that will show the world the possibilities of an integrated approach of facing (and solving) the challenges of circular and bio-based use of protein, water, phosphate and energy.

WBC 7LL is a consortium of companies, governments and knowledge partners that join hands to combine knowledge and networks with the aim to build a center in which by- and co-products from food production will be used to produce new raw materials, energy and clean water.

The partner’s first step is in realising a bio-transition plant, Bio Transitie Centrale Zevenellen (BTC 7LL). This plant will be the first step towards realising the larger ambition. A consortium of companies, amongst which is the Van Asten Group, is now exploring the possibilities of producing clean water, energy and raw materials from the excess bio-waste process stream in the province of Limburg. The aim is to use the 1.1 million tons of bio waste, such as pig manure, sludge waste and other organic by-products and turn these products into 26 million cubic meters of biogas, 900,000 cubic meters of clean, demineralised water and 123,000 tons of raw materials such as Biochar, ammonium water, potassium and building material. These products will be useful for companies in the region, for example, in paper production and as bio fertilisers and building materials.

This production process would also result in the saving of 100,000 tons of CO2, which equals around 80 ha of woods. Furthermore, the initiative would contribute to solving the problem of the pig manure surplus in the province of Limburg specifically.

After the BTC plant becomes a reality, the consortium will continue to work on completing the circle. The aim is to build a composting plant to optimise Champost and other organic waste products from the food chain into high value dried compost.

The combination of BTC and producing high-value, dry compost will result in the production of precision fertiliser with high organic content and a bio-stimulating character. This will be an organic and sustainable product that will enhance the fertility of soil worldwide and thus contribute to the circularity of the production chain beyond the region of Limburg, the Netherlands or even Europe.

Ad en Jolanda Raaijmakers

Ad (60) en Jolanda (55) Raaijmakers have an arable crop farm in the south of the Netherlands. Their farm is located in Best, near Eindhoven, the city that calls itself the ‘brain port’ of our country. Due to the presence of companies like Philips, ASML, VDL and the Technical University of Eindhoven, the city is an important center of technical innovation and development.

The Raaijmaker farm is a newly built farmhouse with farm building equipment for their own arable crop work and machinery, but the buildings also hold farm machinery for a machinery cooperative. Doing farm work for other farmers in the area is part of the business model of the Raaijmakers. Jolanda has been and is still very active as a board member in lots of farmers associations in the region. She is also responsible for the coordination of the education facilities. The farm of the Raaijmakers has been acknowledged as a learning farm for several practical education programs. This activity is also part of the farm’s economic perspective.

A couple of years ago Jolanda and Ad started afresh on the present location. This meant they had an opportunity to set new targets and goals. One of the main drivers of the way the farm is run today is to take care of the soil and create the healthiest circumstances for the plants to grow in. Soil fertility is key to the Raaijmakers, who aim to make sure their farmland remains healthy. When the time comes for them to turn the farm over to a successor, it will have healthier soil than it had when they arrived.

For this purpose the farmers invest in crop rotation, improving organic matter and exploring ways to maintain or improve the mineral content of the soil. This is one of the reasons why the Raaijmakers decided to experiment with the soy crop in the Netherlands. Growing soy is one in more moderate climate is a challenge, but it’s being explored nonetheless. The knowledge and experience with this crop should lead to selection of varieties and basically lead to a viable crop in the crop rotation program of the Dutch arable cropping system. At the Raaijmakers soy is grown both in a conventional and in an ecological way.

Key figures

  • Arable land available: 100 ha in a circle of 30 km around the farm location
  • 11 ha owned land; the remainder are rented, of which 30 ha ecological
  • Main crop: Lilies (50 to 60 ha)
  • Other crops:
    • Grain (wheat, barley, maize)
    • Alfalfa
    • Soy (10 ha, of which 3.5 ha ecological)
    • Strawberries (rented out)