Jack en Gijs van Poppel have a farm in Molenschot in the province of North-Brabant, the Netherlands, near Gilze-Rijen air base. Recently, Paula, the wife of Gijs, started to work full-time at the farm as well. Generation after generation has had a farm here. ‘We have run this farm and kept cattle here continuously since 1480’, Van Poppel Sr tells us. ‘And if it is up to us, we will hold on to this tradition.’
‘With 170 dairy cows we have an average farm. We really would like to grow a bit in the long term, but at this moment – now that the next generation is about to take over – we really opt for making our business more sustainable’, according to Jack. ‘We are attached to farm life and everything that lives on the land. This is what we are interested in. We apply sod fertilisation already very early in the year, before the start of the breeding season of the meadow birds. When we have nests on the land, we wait with mowing the grass as long as possible and then we mark the nests and go around them with the tractor. We see swallows nest in our sheds every year. We have at least fifty nests for swallows. We love nature. We also would like to run an organic farm, but we have done some serious calculations and it is not an option here. We have sandy soil here in North-Brabant, poor soil. We have to fertilise this sandy soil to make sure that we get enough grass from it. For this reason we work with artificial fertiliser and this is contrary to the principles of organic farming.’
‘In order to be able to work in a more sustainable way, we make substantial investments’, Gijs explains. ‘One of these is a manure mono-fermentation system, which is now being built in our farm yard. With a manure mono-fermentation system we can generate energy from manure and at the same time use the processed manure for our own land. The manure coming from our sheds is decomposed in a fermentation tank. The released biogas can be used as green energy: we convert this into electricity for our own farm and the rest is supplied to the energy supplier of the FrieslandCampina locations. Additionally, we remove the environmentally damaging minerals, such as nitrogen and phosphate, from the remaining manure in a mineral separator. The thick manure that is left still contains all important nutrients. We will use these to fertilise our sandy soil. By processing the manure in a manure mono-fermentation system we considerably reduce the CO2 emission of our farm. FrieslandCampina pays a premium for every ton CO2 that we emit less. As we will start using thick manure, we will no longer need artificial fertiliser and we will make much less use of transport for removing the manure. This is how we make our farm more sustainable and this is what I am aiming at: a circular business in which things are reused as much as possible. Today’s consumers demand from us that we produce in a sustainable way. And we also believe in this ourselves.’
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