Science - September 24, 2015

‘Invest 30 million in manure processing’

Albert Sikkema

The Netherlands will receive 30 million euro support for the pig and dairy farms from the European Union. What should the Dutch government use the money for? The Wageningen economist Paul Berentsen thinks we should improve the manure processing system.

The Netherlands will receive the money because the pig and dairy farmers receive low prices for their milk and pigs. Because of this, many farmers are forced to supplement production money. But the 30 million euro support is not nearly enough to compensate the low prices. ‘Imagine: you give the dairy farmers the full amount,’ says Berentsen. ‘Then they would get 0,3 cent per litre of milk, or in other words one twentieth of the difference between the cover costs and that of the current milk price. Thus compensating the low prices is not nearly possible with this money.’

Then what?

‘It is better to try and strengthen the farmers competitive position. I think of the environmental costs, they are currently higher in the Netherlands compared to abroad. Now that the government has implemented phosphate quota for livestock farming, we will probably get tradable phosphate rights which will cause the environmental costs to increase again compared to abroad. To change this drawback to become a benefit, we should invest in manure processing.’

Is manure a key cost?

‘Currently it is a cost because we have too many nutrients in the Netherlands. This translates to a phosphate surplus. You want to do something useful with that phosphate. Thus we should invest in manure processing, so that the phosphate surplus is removed from the market and marketed abroad. Then the production costs will be reduced.

So we should invest 30 million in manure processing factories?

‘I think we should start with investments in improving manure processing techniques, so research. Also further reducing phosphor in livestock feed needs further research, especially in the milk industry. The phosphor is a lot higher in the feeds of these animals compared to what they need. In short, I would try to reduce the manure problems, this would benefit the farmers much more than directly giving them the money.’

(Meanwhile the government has decided to spend 10 million on manure processing. Additionally, 10 million will go to the programme Vitale Varkenshouderij and 10 million will go to the programme Duurzame Zuivelketen.)