On Monday 20th of May, the Circular Farming Platform Wageningen had its very first big event. We were pleased to welcome Anouk van Bakel, who talked about the farm of her family, Vrebamelkvee. It is a large-scale dairy farm that invests a lot in innovations that allow the farm to be more circular. She gave a short introduction to the farm, after which she presented five big challenges that her farm and (dairy) farms in general face in the transition towards circularity. The challenges that were addressed, were soil fertility (and the lack of, for example, organic material), greenhouse gas emissions (to which we also added ammonia emissions), feed import (can it be circular when imported from across the world?), policy restrictions and economics (for example, the pressure to produce for increasingly cheap prices). The audience was divided into five groups, each for one theme, to discuss the outline of the problematics and to make a problem tree. Then they were invited to discuss possible solutions.
After this part, every group could present their main – or most interesting – solution, and Anouk could give her opinion about the solutions and then she presented the measures being taken on her farm. Vrebamelkvee aims to improve soil fertility by fabricating their own fertilization pellets, which are each adjusted to the specific needs of the crops, and they make these on the farm itself – using the manure of the cows. Furthermore, they acknowledge the need to produce feed more locally, and are therefore looking into the possibilities of growing their own soy in Hungary. Together with Wageningen University and Research, the Vrebamelkvee designed the REMEDy stable that captures the methane which can then be used as biofuel to produce those fertilization pellets. The group working on the problem of the greenhouse gases also suggested changing the feed composition, to reduce methane emissions. To address the problem that current policies provide little room for innovation, the Vrebamelkvee farm started being a living lab in collaboration with Wageningen University, to show the government the value of all the new technics. Regarding economics, the solutions mentioned included a better education so that people want to pay more, and several policies that promote true pricing. Circularity could also become a selection criterion, or a label.
On all of these topics, the groups had also raised interesting ideas and perspectives. In the last part, there was space for the audience to ask more questions and raise some bigger discussion points that will be addressed in further events. And then we asked the audience to write down measures that could be taken to include circularity in all curricula in the university, as this is the aim of the platform. All in all, it was an interesting night for both Anouk from Vrebamelkvee as for the students and researchers who participated. And we hope to see many of them again on the 15th of June, when Stichting Boerengroep organizes an excursion to this farm.