“Closing the loops within the dairy farm can save resources, finances, and create new value for both the farmer, the direct environment, and the neighboring farmers.”
There is an interesting potential to enhance circularity in the dairy sector as well as in other agricultural sectors. Applying circular economy principles in agribusiness helps to save resources, to reduce the amount of waste and the negative environmental impact, and creates value. A ‘circular dairy economy’ tool developed by VHL Master student Mr. Mehrab Marri was discussed in a network meeting with AgriProFocus members and VHL students. The meeting generated interesting ideas for further learning on the concepts and practice of Circular Economy Agribusiness.
Introduction Circular Dairy Economy by Mr. Mehrab Marri
There is a clear need to change mindsets from linear to circular, in order to address the scarcity of resources and to prevent negative impacts of waste. A ‘circular economy’ intends to ‘close the loops’ of both biological and technical materials used by humans.
Work to promote more circularity in the dairy sector links closely to the Dairy Sustainable Framework. Interesting work on circular economy in the dairy sector has been done by amongst others Friesland Campina. A model they developed ‘A bird’s eye view of the circular dairy economy’ was also shared through the Dutch Dairy Association (2016), see this link.
Dimensions of the circular economy concept and practice are the following:
- Paying attention not just to NPK but also to C (carbon) because of its importance in the biological cycles
- Manure is reused, not disposed
- Lower dependence on artificial fertilizer
- Create value from the waste, while reducing the volume (and cost) of input
- Circular economy may create new jobs
Mr. Marri developed a tool which could help dairy farmers and other sector stakeholders to take steps towards more circularity in their dairy business. The tool looks at two dimensions: the nutrients flows, and the overall dairy farm efficiency. And it links two value chains, as both the feed and the manure cycles are analyzed through the tool. For those feed and manure cycles, the ambition would be to ‘close the loops’ particularly at a regional level (within 20 kilometers of a farm) as this enables both dairy and arable farmers to exchange nutrients. The tool, which is called Circular Dairy Economy indicator (CDEi) helps analyzing the difference between inflow and outflow of nutrients in the farm and/or the region (based on milk outflow, manure outflow, and fertilizer and feed inflow); and to assess the balance of the flow of nutrients within the farm and/or the region. While it also assesses overall dairy farm efficiency.
A few headlines from the lively discussion that followed are captured here:
- The tool merits further testing, e.g. in different countries, at various levels of scale, in different farm sizes, at different production levels. It may be tested for various other protein-rich foods too.
- It may be considered to include the phosphorous and potassium cycles in the tool.
- Sometimes nutrient rich material cannot be reused (e.g. some manure, or milk) because of legislation. Dutch farmer board LTO is addressing this in their policy dialogues.
- Keep thinking out-of-the box: some solutions to address greenhouse gas emissions may be (even) more effective, e.g. feeding cows the tree species Asparagopsis Taxiformus may help reducing methane emissions (NH4) substantially.
- It is recommended to collaborate with companies or institutions promoting new (ICT based) soil testing techniques or tools.
- All value chain actors can integrate circular economy principles in their business. E.g. processors have their responsibility too: they could invest in value addition to by-products
- Consumers need to be aware of the origin of the product they consume; and think of waste as valuable.
- If all parties collaborate, the transition to (more) circular dairy agribusiness is possible. The sector has shown it is capable to do so, as e.g. the reduction in the use of antibiotics has been achieved too when all parties in the sector worked together actively.
As an active member of the Dutch AgriProFocus network, Van Hall Larenstein University of Applied Sciences hosted this dinner meeting for network members and students. The meeting was also meant as a networking moment for members of AgriProFocus and VHL Master students in ‘Agricultural Production Chain Management (APCM)’.
The dinner meeting is part of a series of informal network meetings hosted by Dutch members of the AgriProFocus network, earlier called ‘PizzaProFocus’ meetings. Dutch members are kindly invited to propose a next topic or idea for a meeting, contacting firstname.lastname@example.org