Edition 28 September, by Sagar Harinayan
The dairy industry has always been a major contributor to the flourishing Dutch economy. Large numbers of livestock are handsomely bred all over to country to make this possible. In fact, among exports to other European nations, dairy products constitute a massive 71.2%. However, this has simultaneously created an undesirable situation. Cow dung, which is used as fertilizer, contains appreciable quantities of nitrates. Back in 2006, the European Union created certain restrictions on the amount of these chemicals allowed to seep into ground water. The Netherlands then, secured a 11 year exemption to this rule, scheduled to expire in December 2017. But as it stands, the EU is unlikely to renew this exemption owing to the appearance of other chemicals in ground water – phosphates. Excess nitrates and phosphates could render the ground water unfit for use, which has led authorities to focus on the source of all this dung – poor, innocent cows!
A few years back, reduction in livestock was the proposed solution by the cabinet, which has undeniably yielded results. In 2017, the number of cows has decreased by 160,000, approximately 10% of the total. According to recent measurements, phosphate production in dung dipped by 8.3 million kilograms in the first half of 2017, maintaining ground water contamination below prescribed Brussels (EU) standards. And keep in mind that due to widespread grasslands in the country which can deal with excess manure, Dutch farmers are already given leeway. So if one day standards dip below the threshold, punishment will be severe. Forcible reduction in the cow population will need to be executed. This can be one in two ways – either export cows or kill them – the second of which is extremely heart-breaking. The irony is hard to miss: in order to preserve nature on the one hand, you are destroying it on the other. But sadly, there will be no alternative. Come this situation, the Dutch government is willing to offer 25 million euros as incentive to the dairy industry. The production will take a hit, roughly valued at about 100 million euros. This in turn will disturb the demand-supply harmony, causing mayhem.
The Dutch secretary of state Martijn van Dam, nevertheless, is pleased as long as they conform to the EU standards. Moreover, this is what is best for the environment. He pointed out that a group of farmers have been given reasonable freedom to rear cattle and he hopes that they adhere to all guidelines. ut what could be other solutions to this? Some dairy groups believe that feed companies have a major role to play to regulate manure content. If these companies produce feed with lower phosphate content, perhaps things will be different. Secondly, and more importantly, excess manure can be viewed as an opportunity to provide a major thrust to renewable energy.
It is common knowledge that organic dung can be easily dealt with to generate biogas. Agriculture is responsible for 10% of greenhouse gas emissions, and Dutch dairy farms release a lot of this as methane. Thus, this initiative will allow us to harness the energy effectively. The government is very supportive of this and is ready to subsidize prices of biogas sold by dairy farmers. Moreover, FrieslandCampina, the world’s largest dairy cooperative, intends to back the farmers strongly in this noble endeavour. Therefore, all parties involved gain something positive out of this and the ecological well-being will not be compromised.