Working on sustainable agriculure
with “common sence”
initiatives to reduce nutrient losses, global warming
and food miles
Frank Verhoeven, Msc.
Studied Animal production (specialized in animal nutrition)
Worked for the Social Sciences Department of Wageningen
University for 7 years
Coordinated projects on: rural development, environmental
problems, farmers innovations and experimental knowledge
All projects in close cooperation with farmers, government
officials, extension services, industry, etc.
Coordinated parts of the Wageningen 5th of may festival from
1998 - 2003
2004: expert mission to Nicaragua (improving quality of milk by
2005: start “Boerenverstand Consultancy” (farmers knowledge)
2008: joined ETC sustainable dairy farming projects NL
2008: start new business: box with local products
loss of biodiversity
1940 1960 1980 2000
Increase of food miles
decrease no. farms
increase of scale, intensification and specialisation
• Due to extreme intensive farming: too much animal
manure and artificial fertilizer was applied.
• High levels of ammonia votalisation
• 100- 300 kg N too much per ha on grasslands.
• Nitrate leaching to ground and surface water.
• Government made strict regulations: reduction of N
input and obligatory use of “slit injection”
• Majority of the farmers thought it was impossible.
“I apply less artificial fertilizer than the
extension services tell me to do. My soil
is more fertile because for all these
years I’ve used improved animal
manure. My cows produce the optimum
amount of milk and not the maximum.
Overall it costs me less and my crops
and animals are more resistant against
• Within this group some (older) farmers had
ideas about reducing N inputs:
– Working on better manure quality
– Aplying manure “above soil”
– Aplying less artificial fertilizer and only when needed
– Stimulating soil life, working on soil Organic Matter
– Different soil application (less ploughing)
• Researchers and policy makers got involved.
• Ideas (or reccomendations) of the farmers
differed from the (models of the) researchers.
• Technical solutions (machines, sheds) vs natural
Results dissemination of (new) knowledge
A practical advice was made for the application of
fertilizer, specific for the region and type of soil
Research (re)discovered the role of soil biology, the
importance of organic matter and the quality of
Feeding for good manure was made possible/
stimulated by new regulation
Analysing: What went wrong?
optimum: 300 kg
nitrogen (N) per
hectare on sandy
other factors determine the
optimal amount of kg N/ha
on the level of the farm:
optimum 150 kg N
Why this happened?
• Models were made within the “regime” of
maximization of production (in each situation
there has to be enough fertilizer).
• Extension and agri-business (supported by the
government) followed the recommendations.
• The model was only adjusted, but context
• Farmers knowledge was not taken into
The issue of Global warming
methane CH4= 21 x CO2
The cycle on the farm:
switch between the
local and the global !
Calculating N and P efficiency
MILK + MEAT
47- 273 ANIMAL EFF.
50 - 95
ROUGHAGE kg N/ha 252 - 468
196 - 398
LOSSES SOIL EFF.
168 - 439
114 - 369
N, P and C Balance
NH3 emission ↑
CH4 emission ↑
MILK AND MEET EXPORTED
N emission ↑
N2 emission ↑
NO3 losses ↓ P fixation – IMPORTED (ARTIFICIAL) MANURE
C balans/Organic Matter
Calculating ammount of “homngrown feed”
Energy need livestock
milk and meet
- Energy imported feed
= Energy homngrown feed
Who are the farmers/farming systems with the
highest production of their own land?
Difference: 5000 kg Dry Matter/ha!
Characteristics of Innovating Farmers
• Extensive social network
• Open for new knowledge
• Travel a lot
• Are inspired by other sectors
• Experiment on their own farm
They reach excellent results and their innovations are
promising for the sector as a whole!
Change of the agriculture?!
Change of thinking, rules, “new knowledge”, etc.
Exchange of knowledge
Innovating farmers have integrated knowledge
which can be very helpful for
dissemination, research and policy.
There is not a unique optimal model of
farming, there are often many ways to reach a goal.
Collect (basic) data and make (simple) analysis to:
find innovating farmers; show differences and
Combine farmers knowledge with scientific
Create “learning networks”
Do not use 1 example farm (each has is own
Make (simple) analysis to:
- find innovating farmers;
- show differences between farmers in a region;
- for learning purposes;
- to extract patterns.
What can you do in your work
to involve/make use of