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`Drought'; `emissions'; `milk solids'; `sustainability';
`veganism'; `animal welfare'; `livelihoods'... these were
among the words that rang out across all the farms that
welcomed international journalists during the week-long
event. The visits took place during July. Like Ireland, The
Netherlands was also experiencing a drought, and farmers
were anxious for the rains to come. Luckily for the Dutch,
however, they are far better situated where fodder is
concerned. The Netherlands benefi ts from its low-lying
land, much of which has been reclaimed and remains
extremely fertile. Good weather conditions the previous
year also meant that fodder is not a challenge which
Dutch farmers have had to contend with this summer,
although they were very sympathetic to the Irish cause.
The new quota
Much like their Irish dairy counterparts, Dutch dairy
farmers eagerly welcomed the removal of dairy quotas
across Europe in 2015 and embraced expansion. The rate
at which the industry expanded far exceeded expectations
achieving a 20 per cent increase in output over two years,
rather than the fi ve originally envisioned. Within three
or four months of quotas being lifted, discussions were
already underway about how to manage the increase in
production and growth in cattle numbers. A signifi cant
consequence of this expansion was an increase in the
production of phosphates which is a signifi cant issue
for the Dutch as The Netherlands has an excess of
phosphate. To combat the production of phosphates,
the Dutch government introduced 'phosphate-sealing'
system, whereby each farmer is allocated phosphate
rights for each cow, based on his stocking numbers on
July 2, 2015 the date when this system was agreed. The
restrictions were offi cially introduced in January 2018
and now Dutch dairy farmers are operating under what
they consider to be 'a new quota'. Phosphate rights
can be purchased by farmers wishing to keep larger
herds, but with rights costing in the region of 8,000
to 10,000 per cow, it can be prohibitive for many and
farmers are, instead, choosing to reduce herd numbers.
Curbing growth
On the den Boer family farm in the south of the country,
Toon den Boer is currently farming 150 cows. Toon
took over the family farm from his father in 1995, when
they were milking 80 cows. He grew it to 140-150 cows,
pre-quota, with 150 young stock also on site. As the new
phosphate rules require rights for every animal on the
farm, Toon was forced to reduce herd numbers, getting
rid of all his young stock. Toon's ambition is to expand the
herd to 200. He explained that this will have to happen
slowly, and he intends to purchase phosphate rights to
allow that expansion over time.
According to Dirk Roelants, sales manager Dairy, Alltech
Netherlands, an estimated 800 to 1,000 Dutch farmers
are expected to leave the industry this year because of
the new phosphate restrictions. He said farmers had
invested in facilities to handle increased herd sizes and
production, but they had not budgeted for the additional
cost of phosphate rights. "It has meant the cost price
has gone way up and they cannot compete with other
dairy farmers." As these farmers leave the industry, Dirk
says their phosphate rights will be transferred to other
farms, enabling them to expand but maintaining national
production levels.
Future focus
Toon said he has his eyes fi rmly fi xed on the future, with
his teenage son, Ron den Boer, eager to follow in his
footsteps. Therefore, Toon has continued to invest in the
farm, building a new barn to accommodate 200 cows and
investing in two robotic milking machines. Toons cows
are indoors full time, feeding on corn silage, grass silage,
compound feeds and pellets from the robot. Calving is
Speaking the
same language
Oonagh O'Mahony recently spent a week in the The
Netherlands as part of the Alltech/International Federation of
Agricultural Journalists' (IFAJ) Young Leaders programme and
the IFAJ congress. The trip included several visits to Dutch
farms. Here, Oonagh reports on the Dutch dairy industry,
which has a lot in common with its Irish equivalent
Toon den Boer and
his son Ron.
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