Science - October 27, 2016

‘There’s a plus side to less livestock’

Albert Sikkema

Dutch dairy farmers face uncertain times. They produce too much manure and State secretary van Dam’s phosphate legislation for controlling that has been rejected by the European Union. So how should the dairy sector proceed? Never waste a good crisis, says researcher Bram Bos of Wageningen Livestock Research.


‘The sector has got to shrink. That is dramatic for dairy farmers who have invested and will now have half-full barns.’

But you still think it’s a good idea to reduce livestock numbers.

‘Yes. I would connect that with several other urgent goals for society. A big reduction in the number of cows solves more than just the phosphate surplus. Not only would it improve water quality but it would also cut both the deposition of ammonia in the natural environment and emissions of greenhouse gases. So shrinking herds have definite advantages, which the government could make use of to limit the damage for the sector.’

09-WET visie Bram-Bos-foto-Hein-Walter.png

But don’t we produce for the global market?

‘Yes, but that clearly has its limits. And it is difficult enough to compete on the world market in terms of cost price, because of high land and labour costs here. With the combination of the world market and requirements imposed by society, it is going to get harder and harder for farmers to produce viably.’

Are there alternatives?

‘First of all you need to stand out more with your product and you could bolster the Dutch dairy sector’s strong points. Take the meadow milk which FrieslandCampina sells as far away as China. Focus as well on the use of grass and waste flows to reduce the pressure on the environment. In the long term it is better not to use animals at all for most of our protein. At the moment we still need cows to convert grass into protein. Let’s develop technology for directly converting grass into raw material for human nutrition. Real milk and cheese will then become a bit like wine.’