Tag Archives: Innovation

Land & Manure: The Dutch Balancing Act #Nuffield16

Picture this: 17 million people, 4 million cattle of which 1.6 million are dairy cows, 102 million chickens, 12 million pigs, 1 million sheep, 0.4 million goats and we cannot forget about the half million turkeys on a total of 5.25 million acres of land.  In all, The Netherlands is situated on an area the same size as the area of Southwestern Ontario.

‘Intensity’ is the one word the best describes the area, farm economy and people who are committed to food production in The Netherlands.  Having a broad perspective of Dutch farmers from my time working with many immigrant families in Ontario; their ideals of space, flexibility and perhaps forms of freedom are what drove them to leave the Netherlands for opportunities in Canada.  However, one common denominator is the shortage of land, I now fully understand why.

The Dutch model of farming is almost exclusively based on being the lowest cost producer, geared toward export. Typically, I think of land required for feed production, however one agribusiness professional felt in the past they had a competitive advantage in sourcing cheap feed for pork and poultry because of the water system to competitively transport feed to regionalized areas.  Now the European Union and Dutch governments environmental restrictions are increasing the cost of production of pork and poultry products, in an already competitive marketplace.

Phosphate quotas have been established to cap the number of animal units on farms, therefore extreme focus on productivity has driven some of the highest production per units in pork and poultry through focussed technical skills (more pigs/sow or eggs/hen).  However, if further growth is required it must come through the acquisition of another pork or poultry unit.  One farmer I visited purchased a 1.5ha vacant hog farm where the buildings will be demolished and a new layer unit established, thus effectively switching the nutrient quota into his specialty.

At times, the monetization and transfer of phosphate units do occur and farmers know the value of the business are linked to these units.  However, these nutrient quotas associated are far less than any Canadian quota values, but they simply are not available.  The cost base for production of poultry, layers and pork has become increasingly challenged due to the limitations of the manure.

A typically intensive pork and poultry farm may be situated on 5 to 10 acres of land, or less, all of the manure must be taken away, often at great lengths to the north, used in digesters to dispose of the manure; but there is a cost.  Given that nearly 80% of the pig manure is liquid, it is estimated that as much as €22/tonne to ship the waste manure off the farm. A turkey producer I met is spending €11/tonne, and that is dry manure.  Although some farmers are paid for their manure, they have invested heavily in separating systems or drying systems; thus adding to the overall cost of production.

Aside from the cost, the administration that comes with the manure is remarkable, can you imagine having to a complete nutrient balance sheet for your farm? All feed shipped in is tracked with GPS monitoring systems, eggs that leave the farm are reported, values nutrient values assigned to spent hens; on top of this, there are separate GPS tracking systems on both the truck and trailers to ensure the system data is linked and no loads of manure go ‘missing in action’.

For now, the dairy sectors past evolution of balanced expansion through land for feed has served them well. With their nutrient quota’s based on stocking densities of about 1 cow plus replacement, per acre. Overall, the dairy sector is slightly better positioned to deal with manure challenges.

As a Canadian farmer, I have difficulty relating; in fact it exposes my shortcomings in fully knowing the nutrients and opportunities that come as waste from the barn, fertilizer and organic matter for my crops.  In a world of increasing pressure to feed global populations it is important to remember that resources are truly finite; particularly land and water! Well, maybe not water for the Dutch.

What Is A Nuffield Scholarship?

The storied Nuffield program stems from one mans vision to educate farmers in agriculture practices by sending them afar to learn and engage with the ‘best of the best’ and then return home to share their knowledge. That man was a wealthy entrepreneur, William Morris also known as Lord Nuffield. It was following the Second World War when the UK population was struggling to rebuild, including a need for an improved domestic food production system. Then, like today, scholars chose topics meaningful to themselves, often involving production techniques, farming practices, environmental concerns or like my topic, more of a market focus.

Although the original endowment which funded Common Wealth scholars has depleted, scholars used to spend 6 months abroad working on farms. Convincing my family that leaving for 12 weeks over 1.5 years is a great thing, I suspect if I had the conversation about a 6-month placement in the UK would be a very short conversation. Today, the Nuffield Agricultural Scholarships are independent programs operated by countries in Australia, New Zealand, UK, Ireland, Holland, France and Canada. Now based on private funding, Canada is that of a growing organization operated by a volunteer board with a recently appointed part time Executive Director.

Since my announcement of a 2016 Nuffield Canada Scholar, I have met with local stakeholders whom share a common interest in my topic. Having met past and current scholars the Nuffield AGM in November, it demonstrated the mix of diversity and backgrounds in Canadian agriculture linked to Nuffield.

As I arrive in Cavan, ‘The Bread Basket of Ireland’ to meet the 75 current scholars from around the world at the Contemporary Scholars Conference, conversations are sure to be interesting. This conference was held in Canada three years ago and will be in Brazil next year. The focus is to highlight issues in agriculture; technology, health and well being of farmers, European Union policy, but also leadership development. I look forward to learning about the competitive sectors of Irish agriculture and particularly how poultry farming fits within the EU, no doubt there is sure to be many conversations on the state of the dairy sector. I have scheduled a few personal visits related to poultry including local turkey farms.

Canadian scholars are expected to travel for at least 10 weeks, 4 of which are consecutive. My travel includes the Global Focus Program, one of five offered. I will travel with 8 other scholars in for 7 weeks in June and July to Australia, Singapore, India, Qatar, Turkey, France and USA. The balance of my independent travel will occur with trips to western Europe and USA.

Throughout the Nuffield journey, I have made commitments to share the experiences and personalities I meet along the way and bring a perspective to Canadian agriculture from out an outside view. I look forward to speaking to farm and community groups about my experience, but through social media, Twitter, Facebook and my Blog, ongoing communication is a must. To wrap up the scholarship, I will prepare a formal written report, likened to a mini thesis.

None of this would be possible without the Scholarship award from Nuffield Canada, but also private support from local industry and business relationships and importantly are the personal support that I have received from my family. So as the program ramps up over the next while, have a read, send me a message or let me know what you think.

As a condition of applying, my wife Kathryn told me: ‘You cannot apply if I can google the answer’. I look forward to sharing my travel experience, but also creating thoughts, questions and insight you otherwise might not considered.

“The Why”

Why? The re-occurring question…. Well, this is my attempt at answering with what I know now..

I am invested; that is the over-riding reason why I applied to be a 2016 Nuffield Canada Scholar. It is about my family, our business, my family’s businesses, my clients businesses and our Canadian industry and all of the people linked through rural communities and the supplier community; I am invested on many fronts in supply management.

As the application deadline loomed in April 2015, so too did the impending trade talks which would potentially affect our supply managed commodities; with that in mind I applied by asking the bigger questions of ‘what if’.  Although that short term question of instability created by global trade pressure may have appeared to pass for the time being, the bigger question of how supply management continues to evolve in Canada is top of mind.  As such, I have refined my thoughts:

“Evaluating poultry markets to ensure Canada’s supply management system is efficient & innovative.”

Given the recent trade announcements and apparent stability, now is the time to ensure our systems are remaining relevant, efficient and ultimately meeting the needs of all members in the value chain from the farmer to the consumer.

As other geo political pressures mount, be it the need to feed the 9 Billion people by 2050 or the aggressive export plans for my fellow pork and beef producer to market into Asia, I think it is very relevant to ask the questions ensuring our system that is nearly 50 years old remains relevant for the next generation of farmers with ever so increasing consumer demands.

The goals over the next 18 months include extensive travel plans through Europe, Asia, Australia and North America; asking the questions about market organization, the role orderly markets and farmer/processor/consumer relationship are evolving and the affect it has back on the farm.  Through open communication, looking outside the daily lens of Canadian agriculture; my goal is to shed light on how our system can continue to meet the needs of the Canadian market.

The Nuffield program was introduced to me a few years ago by local farmers and friends; having followed the program with interest, I was amazed to see the progress individuals made in their own lives but also in their local peer group around them by giving back their gifts through speaking, coaching and encouraging leadership in Canadian agriculture.

So as I embark on this journey, I go as ‘Clair Doan – Nuffield Scholar’ I still have in my head these questions – Why apply, why now, why not wait, why would you do this?

In life there is no perfect time to do anything; however it is through the support of my wife Kathryn, my children; whom seem too young to comprehend, my employer, my family and friends; I am eternally grateful.