Sustainable Urban Dairy

Friday 13 July – Southern tour

In a densely populated country like the Netherlands with more and more citizens watching over the farmer’s shoulder, it is a challenge to farm in a way that withstands the social test of criticism. This tour through the Green Heart of the Netherlands shows that very different roads can be taken towards this challenge. The Green Heart is an agricultural area that is roughly sandwiched between Utrecht, Amsterdam and Rotterdam. It is a typical dairy farming area with lots of grasslands, mainly peat soil. The history of dairy farming and making dairy products in this area is hundreds of years old, starting in the Dutch Golden Age in the 17th century.

Nowadays, climate change is a problem, especially in this peat soil area below sea level. When the groundwater level goes down, peat soil sinks too and loses nitrogen and methane. At the same time the North Sea level is rising, due also climate change. The dairy sector is looking for solutions, through sustainable innovations and cooperation with society and government.

Boer Bert company

Bert, Marieke and son Jaco de Groot have an organic dairy farm with 250 cows, luxury apartments, two haystack huts and a meeting room. They are located in Kamerik, in the middle of the Green Heart. Jaco de Groot will take over the farm from his parents later this year. The company has been organic since 2005.

Characteristic to the company is the connection with nature and society. Jaco, in particular, wants to strengthen and expand this connection through the farm shop where cheese, milk, meat and eggs has been sold for a year, and the orchard that is now being developed. The company has been energy neutral since 2015. To finance solar panels, they used De Bron, a collective of the Dutch Consumers Association (Consumentenbond) and the Triodos bank, specialized in sustainability.

Jaco de Groot is in the second year of his Nuffield Scholarship. For this, he deepened the relationship between farmer and citizen, by travelling worldwide. According to the young entrepreneur, this is a relevant issue farmers worldwide have to deal with.

Jaco studied Agricultural entrepreneurship. In 2009, he calculated two scenarios for the company: in the old cubicle barn they will continue to milk 130 cows, or grow considerably and build a new barn for 250 cows. For this new barn he calculated three scenarios: gradual growth, suddenly filling the new barn in 2011, or suddenly filling it in with the abolition of the milk quota in 2015. Partnership De Groot chose to grow gradually. The new 0 + 6 + 0 barn with 2 x 26 stands swing over milking parlor was completed in 2011. On July 2, 2015 – exactly in time for sufficient phosphate rights – there were 245 cows at the farm. In 2017, they bought a neighbouring dairy farm. The owner of this farm emigrated to Poland.

Dairy farm details
Number of dairy cows: 240
Number of young cattle: 130
Number of hectares owned: 100
Number of hectares of rent and rent: 140
Herd replacement percentage: 10%
Average age when slaughtered: 7.03
Life production of animals present: 20,544 kg
Milk production: 6,500 kg milk; 4.33% fat; 3.60% protein
Ration: grass (silage) and concentrate, during summer grazing as much as possible
Kg concentrate feed per 100 kilograms of milk: 27 (including young cattle)
Number of hectares owned: 100
Number of hectares rented: 140
Other animals: 30 sheep and 180 laying hens
Number of education visitors per year: 20 school classes
Number of meetings per year: 50
Occupancy of cabins: 25% (total 8 beds)
Occupancy of apartments: 60% (total 17 sleeping places)
Horse pension: 10 places

Veenweiden Innovatie Centrum (VIC)

Veenweiden Innovatie Centrum (VIC) is located in the middle of the Western peat meadow area. VIC is the living lab of the Western pasture area where area-oriented knowledge is developed and shared. VIC is the location where users of the knowledge can meet and/or enter into dialogue with the researchers and knowledge workers.

The Western peat meadow area is an ancient and unique cultural landscape. Land-based agriculture is an important contributor to this cultural landscape. The peat meadow areas have their own specific problems, such as: limited capacity of the soil, sinking of the soil and greenhouse gas emissions.

During the excursion you will learn about the peat meadow area, the type of soil, the problems with this soil and the innovative solutions to turn threats into opportunities.

Floating Farm

The idea for the Floating Farm came out of a search for new ways to produce food in the city. Producing food in the city helps to close the gap between farmer and consumer. The founders of the Floating Farm call this Transfarmation. Beginning at the end of 2018, 40 dairy cows will be kept in the port of Rotterdam. Their milk will be locally processed into healthy dairy products and sold to local consumers. Theirs is an initiative that appeals to the imagination worldwide. Inspired by Floating Farm, several world cities requested to copy the concept, even before it actually started in Rotterdam. The Floating Farm will be built this summer, and we are one of the first who can have a look with our own eyes.

The Floating Farm is the ultimate example of experimental innovation in Dutch dairy, with feeding- and milking robots, the highest welfare housing standards, and grass grown under LED lights, the city is now connected with modern dairy farming

Facts & figures about Dutch dairy farming

Number of dairy Farmers in 2017: 17,500
Number of cows in 2017: 1.63 million
Production of milk in total: 1.4 billion liters
Amount of land in use total sector: 864,000 hectares
Average ha per dairy farm: 49.4
Milk production per cow per year (2017 average): 8,706 kg milk with 4.36% fat and 3.57% protein
(Sources: and Rabobank)

Dutch Dairy Dilemmas
Many Dutch dairy farmers see the current period as a very difficult one. It has been turbulent, that’s for sure. The most important thing to understand is the phosphate quota. When Europe abolished milk quota on April 1, 2015, Dutch dairy farmers immediately began producing more milk. They kept more cows, which produced more phosphate.
There is a lack of phosphate worldwide, but in the Netherlands there is too much. Therefore, the government and the farmers’ union made agreed to limit the amount of phosphate a farm is allowed to produce, this is called the ‘phosphate-sealing’.

In 2015, the government made changes to put a stop to the phosphate overproduction. Each farm was given phosphate rights, and those rights were based o the amount of cows and young stock they had on July 2nd, 2015. Officially, this new system started on January 1, 2018, one year later than the original plan.

The Dutch dairy farmers hold a unique position within the EU. They are allowed to use more nitrogen to fertilize their land than other EU-farmers (250 kg N/ha versus 170 kg N/ha). This is called derogation. The derogation came into place as the Dutch soils are more fertile, produce more grass and in general can feed more cows per ha then elsewhere in Europe.

When farmers began to produce more milk, manure and thus phosphate the EU threatened to stop the derogation. This was one of the main reasons for the Dutch government to put measure into place that put a stop to unlimited growth of dairy farm production. Instead of milk quota farmers now have to deal with phosphate rights. Due to the fact that lots of farmers already invested in increasing their production and the rights are much wanted to allow the growth, prices for one phosphate right are high. They can cost as much as 9000 euro’s per cow.

The political pressure as well as societal demands put a lot of pressure on todays dairy farmers.