Forget buy-out schemes, Dutch dairy players look to innovation to cut nitrogen emissions

By Jane Byrne

- Last updated on GMT

Lely Sphere © Lely
Lely Sphere © Lely

Related tags Nitrogen Livestock Dairy Beef methane emissions

FrieslandCampina, Rabobank and Lely are teaming up a project to reduce nitrogen emissions on dairy farms in the Netherlands.

They are entering into a partnership for the installation of 96 Lely Spheres on farms across all the Dutch provinces.

The Lely Sphere is an installation that reduces nitrogen emissions by up to 70% in the barn of a dairy farm, according to official measurements at test farms, said Lely.

The three entities hope that, after this pilot project, the concept will be applied on a broader scale in the sector.

Work on developing the Lely Sphere began in 2015 and it received official recognition, under the Netherlands Livestock Farming Ammonia Regulation (RAV), as an innovative housing system against ammonia emissions last year. 

It is a circular barn system that separates solid manure and urine and converts nitrogen emissions into valuable fertilizer. These can be reused by the farmer for precision fertilization on the land. In this way a more closed mineral cycle is achieved, the use of artificial fertilizer decreases and the climate in the barn improves, according to the collaborators.

For dairy farmers, closing mineral loops is becoming increasingly important because it improves the social acceptance and sustainability of farming, they added.

In terms of covering the cost of the installation of these on-farm systems, FrieslandCampina said it will provide a financial contribution to the farms, Lely will gives a discount on the purchase of the system and Rabobank is offering the buyers a loan with advantageous conditions.

In addition, the organizations believe the pilot project will encourage regional and national authorities to make the necessary financial resources available for additional farms to install these systems.

Future-proofing farms 

Hein Schumacher, CEO of FrieslandCampina, said reduction of on-farm emissions in this way is a more sustainable and future-proof solution for the Netherlands than expensive buy-out schemes. “We want to encourage the government to [support this] approach and invest in farmers who want to make their farm management more sustainable.”

André van Troost, CEO of Lely, echoed that, saying the partners want to contribute to alternatives to current Dutch government plans regarding the national nitrogen challenge: “Instead of reducing livestock and compensating dairy farmers for this, we believe in investing in research and technical innovations to stimulate circular livestock farming and make agriculture more sustainable. With this partnership we make the investment in the Lely Sphere more accessible for farmers, enabling them to work towards a sustainable future for their business.”

As of today, farmers can sign up to participate in the program, said the parties. The results of the pilot will be evaluated early next year to determine next steps.

Methane emission reduction also on the agenda 

Besides innovation in nitrogen reduction, reduction of greenhouse gases including methane emissions from cattle is high on the agenda of the three organizations.

They are also assessing innovative models to address that challenge and, thereby, boost the sustainability profile of agriculture.

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