Manure handling key in Dutch controls

Strict manure laws | Fight against manure called a nation-wide issue as country tries to cope with little available land

EDE, Netherlands — Dutch farmers increased livestock production following the Second World War to feed a hungry continent ravaged by conflict. 


They became major exporters of pork and dairy products, but the unintended consequence was a manure surplus. 


“We have too much manure for the land we have,” said farmer Gerbert Oosterlaken, who lives in northeastern Netherlands.


When he built a new 600 sow operation this year, the development permit included detailed plans for manure handling and air purification systems in the barns. He not only had to apply to local authorities but was also forced to face public scrutiny. 


“Everybody has an opinion,” he told a recent Canadian farm tour group hosted by the Dutch government. 


He farms 153 acres, on which he grows sugar beets, potatoes for the starch market, feed wheat and malting barley. 


Some of the manure is spread on the land and supplemented with commercial fertilizer because he needs more nitrogen and potassium. 


Next year, a new manure law will force him to treat his hog slurry and remove 30 percent of it from the area. He figures it will cost $73 to $117 per sq. metre to get rid of it.


In addition, he also had to install biological scrubbers to remove particulates and ammonia, a process he agreed with because good air quality in the barn is a better environment for employees and the health of his pigs. 


Ferry Leenstra of Wageningen University said the fight against manure is a nation-wide issue, in which the public and non-governmental organizations worry about the effects on human health and the environment. 


“If you require a new licence because you want to expand, then the local authorities put it on the table and everybody can object,” he said.


“Then you have to deal with these objections.”


He said the problem is that Dutch farmers need more organic matter in their soil.


They also need to import feed and use a lot of byproducts from the brewing and milling sectors, which are high in phosphorus. 


Concerns for public health are part of the impetus behind these rules.


An outbreak of Q fever in goats between 2007 and 2010 sickened livestock and people. About 80 people died from the bacterial infection, which was traced back to spreading goat manure on farmland. 


Manure regulations go back nearly 30 years.


Legislation in 1986 forced farmers to register their manure production.


A reference quota of manure per farm was determined by multiplying the number of animals by their phosphorus excretion, which was expressed as kilograms of manure phosphorus per hectare. 


Two Dutch provinces are now experimenting with a responsible animal production index, in which farms must score above legal requirements before expansion is considered.


The intention is to improve animal health and welfare and reduce emissions and risks to human health.


Farms that want to expand must meet the latest environmental rules, which include covering stored manure and finding ways to reduce phosphorus either in the feed or manure. 


Manure discussions are ongoing this winter because Dutch farmers need to find a place to send it. 


Private companies have emerged in the last 20 years that sell biological air washers for pig and poultry farms. They also offer machines to dry and pasteurize manure, which can be exported or go into biodigesters to generate energy. 


About 450,000 tonnes of processed, dried manure will be delivered to a government owned facility this year, where it will be burned to produce energy. 


Tests are also underway to turn manure into a dry, flaky material for bedding in hog barns.

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