Challenges ahead for Dutch dairy sector

04-07-2023 | |
Many dairy farmers had different ideas about what sustainability meant and there were various levels of awareness. Photo: Canva
Many dairy farmers had different ideas about what sustainability meant and there were various levels of awareness. Photo: Canva

Dairy farmers in the Netherlands face an ongoing range of challenges but they are optimistic about improving the sustainability of their sector.

A study carried out by Wageningen Economic Research highlighted a number of challenges milk producers felt they face, including:

  • A lack of vision from the government amid shifting policies
  • A lack of a viable revenue model
  • Ever-changing sustainability programmes at dairy organisations
  • Negative images about agriculture
  • A lack of knowledge among citizens, policy-makers and political parties

The research, carried out for the Sustainable Dairy Chain consortium, a theme group of ZuiveNL, included interviews with 40 dairy farmers, covering a range of topics such as the sustainability goals of the Sustainable Dairy Chain.

Its aim was to help Sustainable Dairy Chain partners to develop interventions that could contribute to the consortium’s sustainability goals. The study also provided better insight into the intrinsic motivations of dairy farmers in terms of goal commitment.

Producers were interviewed around the following subjects:

  • A viable revenue model for dairy farmers
  • Climate-neutral production
  • Animal health and welfare
  • Grazing
  • Biodiversity
  • Land-related farming
  • Safety on the farm

They were also asked what they considered to be positive and negative consequences of sustainability, what they perceived to be their challenges and opportunities and the solutions they could identify.

The results found that many of the dairy farmers had different ideas about what sustainability meant and there were various levels of awareness. There was a real lack of clarity among producers about reducing ammonia and greenhouse gas emissions and preserving biodiversity.

They also wanted to see a comprehensive set of policy-making improvements that clarifies the link between various sustainability measures. As a result, the study felt it was important to offer producers practical advice through targeted “why” campaigns.

Another thing that emerged from the interviews was that dairy farmers felt a sense of injustice, saying they felt unfairly penalised when compared to other sectors, such as heavy industry and aviation.

*The interviews took place in 2021 when the nitrogen issue was high on the agenda in the Netherlands.

McDougal
Tony McDougal Freelance journalist


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