Dealing with Phosphorous the Dutch way (De Klaverhof, Moerdijk)

24 May 2018

Regulations to limit national phosphorous production is having a significant impact on Dutch dairy farmers. This was apparent during a visit by the EuroDairy network to the Netherlands in January 2018.   The driver for legislation is to maintain a national derogation, under the EU nitrate directive, to use 210 kg N (instead of 170 kg N) from animal manure. In order to retain the derogation, a ceiling was set for national phosphorous production. This further tightening in regulation is occurring just at a time when farmers in the Netherlands were gearing up for an expansion in milk output after the removal of the quota system.  The end result is that over the last 18 months, around 150,000 cows have been removed from the industry.

The impact on the ground was demonstrated in a visit to the farm of Marc and Ingrid Havermans, who milk 280 cows in West Brabant. Marc has been a test farm for Lely for many years, and is using advanced technology to reduce labour requirements and increase feeding precision. Cows are milked through robots, and housed in a large open-plan, ‘free-walk’ system designed to maximise animal welfare.

Marc’s current housing facility is 20% under capacity, and he had recently invested €2.5 million in extra land, anticipating a significant expansion of the dairy herd. With any phosphorous permits which have been traded to date, priced at almost €200 per kg of phosphorous (equivalent to about 8000 per cow!), these plans are now firmly on hold.

To meet its responsibilities, the dairy industry has established a reporting system (ANCA – Annual nutrient cycle assessment) which each farmer must use to calculate and report his nitrogen and phosphorous balances. This is collated nationally to give an aggregate overview of industry performance, and to use in national discussions with Government.

The ANCA system assigns each category of livestock a value for phosphorous excretion. Farmers can use their own verifiable, farm-specific data. By assessing environmental performance, generic legislation could eventually be replaced by farm-specific regulations, which gives efficient farmers more entrepreneurial freedom.

The ANCA system is funded and owned by ZuivelNL, the Dutch inter-branch organisation for the dairy sector, and is currently being rolled out across the Dutch dairy industry. Despite the extra cost and individual restrictions, the approach is generally being accepted by farmers. According to farmer’s organisation ZLTO, this acceptance is on the basis of taking ownership of a collective responsibility to meet environmental standards, at home and on the export market, as well as the possibility to save costs by managing inputs more efficiently.