Keith Woodford is an independent consultant who holds honorary positions as Professor of Agri-Food Systems at Lincoln University and Senior Research Fellow at the Contemporary China Research Centre at Victoria University. He recently travelled to the Netherlands with Calder Stewart representatives to see what can be learned from their dairy farming practices. Despite modest subsidies and tight regulation, Dutch dairy farms prosper through a focus on science, highly educated farmers and a strong sense of social responsibility.
The industry structure has similarities to New Zealand. FrieslandCampina is the dominant co-operative with a 65 percent market share. CRV (which operates in New Zealand as CRV Ambreed) is the dominant farmer-owned herd improvement co-operative, similar to New Zealand’s LIC (Livestock Improvement Corporation), and is one of the ‘big three’ global suppliers of dairy semen.
Like New Zealand, the Dutch industry has had an increasing focus on China, but with infant formula as the key value-add product. They are happy to leave the commodities to New Zealand.
On our trip, we received great support from the CRV team who took us to a range of farmers who were pushing the envelope in various directions. These included high production farms with cows averaging over 850 kg milksolids (fat plus protein) per 305-day lactation, organic farms with somewhat lower production and higher costs, and hybrid farms with various levels of grazing.
Farmers who have their cows outside for at least six hours per day for at least 120 days of the year receive a price premium of 1.5 euros per litre paid by their processor, which is about five percent above the standard price. However, this ‘grass-fed’ milk is not kept separate from other milk. Rather, it provides a market story that Dutch cows lead a happy outside-life together with nice pictures for dairy-product labelling.
Unlike New Zealand, the urban community seems generally supportive of dairy industry practices. There is a sub-group of ‘urbanista bovinophobes’ who believe no animals should be farmed, but farmers and farming are generally held in high regard. This favourable situation has not been achieved by chance. Animal welfare standards and environmental management standards are both very high. The farms are exceptionally tidy.
There are a few Dutch farmers using similar grazing systems to in New Zealand, and we found ourselves talking about grazing mass, the three-leaf stage and residuals, just as in New Zealand. However, there is much less synchrony over there between pasture supply and cow feed demand. The Dutch pastures lie dormant for up four months or more, and then bolt away in spring. When we were there in late May, grass production was about 140 kg dry mater per hectare per day – enough to feed about seven cows each day at that time of year for each hectare.
The farms we visited were typically of about 100 cows, but across all of Holland the average farm is somewhat smaller than this. These are big cows - typically 650 to 700 kg, and sometimes more. And they produce a lot of milk.
Land is expensive – it can be anywhere from 45,000 euros per hectare to over 80,000 euros per hectare. So, it is not surprising that the Dutch have spread out across the dairy world in search of new opportunities. It seems that the Dutch and dairying go together.
DISCLAIMER: This is an extract from an article published on Interest.co.nz on June 7th 2017. Some paragraphs have been omitted or repositioned. Read the full article here.