As chain coordinator, we are driving the transition to a more sustainable sector. While on the one hand, we achieve this by focusing our production chain on obtaining the maximum value from the calf, by making our products more sustainable, by using alternative raw materials and by making optimal use of residual waste flows and residual heat in the food system, all of which are enabling us to fulfil the ambitions for a circular agricultural system, we also apply smart technologies and develop innovative solutions that reduce emissions in the calf husbandry, which is enabling us to contribute to the national climate objectives. In addition, we are investing in partnerships with knowledge partners and stakeholders in order to strengthen the chain. In this way, we are ensuring that the work carried out in every link of our chain is increasingly efficient, the impact on the environment and the surroundings is reduced and waste is prevented.
Maximising the value of calves
The Dutch veal sector emerged in the 1960s. With the growth of dairy farming, the number of calves also increased. However, not every calf is suitable for placement with the dairy farmer, bull calves being one example, so people started looking for other ways to enhance the value of these calves. Maximising the value of calves is the basis of the VanDrie Group. With respect for the intrinsic value of animals, we give our full commitment to process and utilise all parts of the calf in the best possible way. Our aim is to make optimal use of every meat component, raw material, residual waste flow or by-product. Thinking in terms of cycles and the use of residual waste flows has been intertwined in our policy from day one.
The coronavirus crisis created a situation in which valorising all components did not succeed in 2020.The demand for products suitable for the catering industry and food service came to a complete standstill for a long time, while quantities of frozen stock increased. The leather market stagnated for a long time, due to temporary closures of tanneries. As a result of this, the stock of calfskins increased and the revenues from these products decreased.
The road towards reducing emissions in the calf husbandry
Veal farmers must quickly and significantly reduce energy consumption and emissions, especially of ammonia and methane, between now and 2030. However, current stall systems are not designed for this and suitable techniques are not sufficiently available.
Within the Region Deal Foodvalley the VanDrie Group works together with agricultural entrepreneurs, governments, knowledge institutions and the business community in the region on innovation in agriculture. An important project in this Region Deal is focusing on emission reduction in livestock farming. Jan Workamp, affiliated with the Livestock Emission Reduction Practice Centre, is the theme leader for this component. In the ‘Boer aan het Roer’ (Farmer at the helm) testing ground he works with livestock farmers to test out innovations in practice. In 2020, many livestock farmers signed up for this. The veal sector was well represented.
Jan Workamp: “It is estimated that around 70% of the ammonia on a veal farm is released from the manure pit. For the veal sector, the biggest gains in ammonia reduction can therefore be achieved in the stall. This requires systems that separate manure and urine, for example, so that emissions do not occur. Currently, only stall systems with air washers are registered for the veal sector. This filters the outgoing air to remove ammonia and odour, thereby benefiting local residents and the environment. It’s an end-of-pipe solution. However, this does not change the indoor climate in the shed, even though there is much to be gained from it. The benefits include a healthier working environment for veal farmers and better animal health and welfare for their calves.”
“An integrated approach was an important criterion in the selection of the innovations for the testing ground. Other criteria were feasibility and affordability, and preferably that the innovation is applicable in existing stables. In 2020, we received a relatively large number of applications from the veal sector. We see an enormous willingness among veal farmers to take part; many of them even come up with an idea or make their own farm available as a pilot farm. Some have even developed a particular technique on their own initiative, which they would like to have tested.”
“To determine emissions, we are obliged to take measurements in the stalls at least during a full year."
“When innovating, the duration is always an issue. We often want it faster than it can be done in reality. In order to determine emissions, we are obliged to take measurements in the stalls for at least a full year.” We need to know what reductions that system achieves under different weather conditions and at different ventilation capacities. Only then will we know whether a new system will actually deliver the promised reduction in emissions.
In January 2021, the ‘Calf stable Ammonia Reduction' pilot project started on a veal farm where an innovative system had been installed. Throughout 2021, the ammonia concentration on this farm will be measured. This is being carried out in cooperation with Wageningen University & Research and Utrecht University. In addition, we are further expanding the number of pilot farms. The aim is to take measurements at four veal farms by the end of 2021.”
Read more: In 2020, Marijke Everts, Director Corporate Affairs at the VanDrie Group, was closely involved in selecting the innovations
Reduction of greenhouse gas emissions
Within the context of the European Energy Directive (EED) obligations, an energy audit took place at Dutch VanDrie Group companies in 2020. An energy audit is a systematic check every four years in order to collect information about current energy consumption and a company’s opportunities to achieve savings. In total, the VanDrie Group has 11 locations in the Netherlands. An energy audit was conducted of six branches in the country. The other five branches have been certified in accordance with the environmental system ISO140001 + CO2 reduction management and are therefore exempt from the energy audit obligation. Various opportunities for savings emerged from the EED audit, which the companies have implemented in their multi-year investment plans. In this way, we continue working to achieve more efficient business operations and to reduce our climate impact. Our meat processing companies in the Netherlands are going to improve the utilisation of residual heat in the coming years. This should result in companies being practically gas-free by 2025. Some gas capacity will probably remain necessary in order to cope with emergencies or critical processes, such as the management of sterilisation water.
Sustainable raw materials
We are using more and more residual products for the production of our animal feed. However, we still have to purchase some of the raw materials directly. When doing so, we expressly look at sustainable options. Suppliers are assessed, among other things, on sustainability and environmental performance. As a result of our role as food producer, we believe we have a responsibility in that regard, but this is also because we can see that more public attention is being devoted to the use of certain raw materials. Examples include soya and palm oil. We do not turn a blind eye to that: we view it instead as incentive to continue looking for alternatives, to make our current raw materials flows even more sustainable and to communicate about the choices we are making.
About four percent of calf feed consists of soya products. They are very good vegetable proteins that are easily digestible for calves. Moreover, soya products have a favourable amino acid composition, in line with calves’ need for digestible amino acids. The soya products that serve as raw material in our calf feed are by-products that are released during the production of soya oil. These raw materials comply with the Fefac Soy Sourcing Guidelines (FSSG).
In order to combat deforestation and the use of crop protection agents, while at the same time improving the position of farmers in the soya production areas, various initiatives have been set up for the use of responsible soya. Round Table on Responsible Soy (RTRS) is an important example of that. RTRS only allows soya for which no deforestation has taken place. The percentage of soya with an RTRS or other certificate is estimated to be 2 percent worldwide. The Dutch animal feed sector of which the VanDrie Group forms part, processes soya fully in accordance with these responsible soya standards. Our sector is therefore at the cutting edge of sustainable soya sourcing.
Approximately 0.5 percent of calf feed consists of palm oil. As an energy source it provides essential fatty acids (linoleic acid and linolenic acid) that cannot be created by an animal itself. These essential fatty acids subsequently help with the absorption of vitamins and are therefore indispensable to guarantee the calves’ good health. For the Dutch production and sales, this complies fully with the certification of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO). We have agreed in a covenant via the Dutch animal feed industry organisation (Nevedi) that all palm oil and palm-oil-related products that we purchase and are intended for consumption in the Netherlands are RSPO certified. RSPO is a multi-stakeholder organisation that determines the standard for sustainable palm oil production and sets rules such as no chopping down of rainforests and observance of human rights. At this moment, approximately 18% of all palm oil that is produced worldwide is RSPO certified.
Besides purchasing RSPO certified palm oil as part of the covenant, we are also collaborating with our supplier Olenex (part of Wilmar) on Mariposa. Mariposa is a fund in which companies donate money on the basis of the palm oil volumes that they buy. The Wilmar sustainability team, on behalf of Olenex, is going to set up projects in Latin America with that fund, by means of which palm oil farmers will be helped to become more sustainable. In this way, we also want to increase our impact. One of the projects is WISSE, which was launched at the end of 2019. During a three-year programme, more than 1,800 small farmers in Latin America will be trained to become sustainable entrepreneurs. The participants will receive training courses in order to combine sustainable, small-scale palm oil cultivation with nature preservation. Participants will also be coached to certify their production according to the strict sustainability criteria of the RSPO or the International Sustainability and Carbon Certification (ISCC) system.
Circular agriculture and the circular economy
The prediction is that the global population will consist of almost 10 billion people by 2050. If we want to feed them in a responsible manner, our food production must be more in balance with nature, so that we do not exhaust the Earth. The Dutch Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality (LNV) is committed to a transition to circular agriculture. This is a system in which arable farming, livestock farming and horticulture primarily use raw materials from each other’s chains and residual waste flows from the food industry and food chains.
By connecting chains, the companies of the VanDrie Group are working in various ways on achieving an efficient cycle. For example, the raw materials that we buy for our animal feed are to a considerable extent residual products and co-products from various dairy and food producers. About 80 percent of our calf milk consists of residual waste flows, such as whey, low fat milk powder and permeate (residual waste flows from the dairy and cheese industries). In addition, by-products make up a significant proportion of the muesli that calves eat. Approximately 30 percent of these products come from residual waste flows from arable farming (grain processing and oilseeds) and the food industry. When selecting the raw materials, we try to buy these locally as possible. With a share of 80 percent, we obtain the majority of our raw materials from Europe. More than a third of the raw materials come from within a 250-kilometre radius of our feed production sites.
Sustainable agriculture means a lot to the farmyard and the veal farmers which whom we collaborate. In 2020, we conducted a sustainability scan with our contract veal farmers in the Netherlands. Various indicators were mapped out: the use of water, energy, land, heat generation and production of manure. We will use the resulting data to inform veal farmers about average results, so that they can compare their efforts with other veal farmers. This will also serve as an incentive to take further sustainability steps. In the future, we will conduct this sustainability scan more often in order to make the progress clear.
The sustainability scan made it clear that at present 25 percent of the energy generation at the husbandry takes place via solar panels versus 75 percent of energy obtained via grid supply. This means that a considerable roof area is available for solar generation. Under the pretext of ‘liever op dak dan in de weide’ (rather on the roof than in the meadow), it remains important that good support resources are available for veal farmers to achieve the transition to sustainable energy generation on the roof.
As a result of the sustainability scan, we now know the different ways in which manure is used or processed. 26 percent of the manure produced is used for the fertilisation of the veal farmers’ own fields which they manage, while 25 percent of the manure produced goes to third parties, such as farmers in the vicinity. The remaining 49 percent goes to manure processing plants, such as Stichting Mestverwerking Gelderland (Gelderland Manure Processing Foundation, SMG). SMG processes incoming calf manure, after which the products from this are sold as manure for arable farms in the Netherlands and abroad and serve as raw material for companies that manufacture manure granules. The challenge remains to ensure that we keep reducing the impact on the environment. That is why we conduct ongoing research into new processing options and techniques. For example, we started the study entitled ‘No Time to Waste’ with Eindhoven University of Technology in 2020. This study focuses on the development of smart membranes that can selectively extract nitrogen components from aqueous manure streams. This can significantly reduce nitrogen emissions from the stalls. In addition, this allows the valuable minerals from manure streams to be provided in the correct, crop-specific proportions, thereby minimising the quantity that is flushed out into the ground and surface water.
Plastic is frequently used as packaging material both in our food and feed activities. These packagings serve to preserve the quality of products as long as possible and to extend the shelf-life of products. We can’t do without them, unfortunately. We are, however, continuously searching for ways in which we can reduce the amount of plastic waste in our chain. We see at our animal feed companies that it helps if customers receive products in bulk instead of in bags. In 2020, the share of bulk rose, which resulted in a 19 percent reduction in waste at our Dutch animal feed companies compared to 2019.
An additional advantage of bulk deliveries is that the logistics becomes more efficient, as bulk lorries drive with compartments so that different loads can be transported at the same time. An increase in bulk deliveries therefore results in a decrease in the number of kilometres driven. In 2021, we want to make the waste flows at the companies more transparent in order to make further progress in our ambition to reduce waste. Want to know more about how we collaborate in the field of logistics? Take a look at this.