Science - April 30, 2010

Twenty percent fewer livestock will curb manure oversupply

The oversupply of manure from Dutch livestock farms is rising as a result of stricter environmental regulations. To solve this problem without manure export or technological innovations, the number of livestock will have to be reduced by twenty percent before 2020, reports the Agricultural Economics Research Institute (LEI).

The manure issue is becoming more and more of a bottleneck because livestock farmers have to reduce the amounts of phosphates and nitrogen that get into the soil to conform to environmental legislations. This has led to the situation where arable farmers get paid - instead of having to pay - for obtaining manure from livestock farmers. The mineral excess from cattle and pig manure will soar to 50 million kilos of nitrogen and 21 million kilos of phosphates from 2016.
The sector hopes that manure processing, separation and export, and feed adjustments would be able to solve this problem. Another solution is to limit the number of livestock. The Ministry of Housing, Spatial Planning and the Environment (VROM) wants to find out what the consequences of the latter would be. 'We are not saying that this will be the outcome of the political debate', says researcher Hans Vrolijk of LEI, 'but the research isn't carried out just for fun. There is a real problem and all the alternatives are being examined.'
Phosphate quota
LEI distinguishes between two situations in its attempt to arrive at a balanced manure market in the Netherlands. In both these situations, livestock farmers have to deal with a phosphate quota which is subsequently being creamed off by the government. In scenario A, the phosphate quota cannot be marketed. The livestock would then have to be reduced across the board by 19.5 percent so that this mineral quota can be maintained. In scenario B, the phosphate quota may be sold. The number of cattle in the Netherlands would then have to be reduced by 12 percent, the number of meat pigs by 30 percent and the number of breeding pigs by 35 percent. 'The better-off livestock farmers would then buy phosphate rights from those who give up livestock farming', Vrolijk explains the differences between the two scenarios.
Number of jobs
Scenario A would hit in particular the incomes of farmers with dairy cattle and meat calves. This alternative would lead to a reduction in added value amounting to 2.3 billion Euros for the Dutch economy and a loss of up to 39,000 jobs. Scenario B would lower the incomes of meat pig farmers in particular. It would cost the Dutch economy 1.9 billion Euros and up to 32,000 jobs.
To prevent such doom scenarios from happening to the livestock industry, it would seem advantageous for farmers to invest in manure processing and separation techniques. But very few livestock farmers have taken this step so far. 'If one farmer invests in manure processing, he would have to bear the risks while others would share the benefits', says Vrolijk. 'In the light of uncertainties, farmers are therefore unwilling to commit themselves as yet.'

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