Inge Lugtenberg, 21, is a student from Luttenberg, Raalte, the Netherlands. She’s participating in a dairy-management and entrepreneurship exchange program between UW-River Falls and the Aeres University of Applied Sciences of Dronten, the Netherlands.
The exchange program is helping her to analyze her family’s dairy farm as well as learn about future opportunities and challenges in the dairy industry, she said. She’s been thinking about eventually taking over her parent’s farm.
The Lugtenberg family owns and operates a 177-cow farm near Luttenberg, which produces about 21,000 pounds of milk per cow per year with 4.7 percent fat and 3.7 percent protein. They also raise about 100 head of young stock and farm about 220 acres.
Major challenges Dutch dairy farmers face are public criticism and a discussion about a national reduction plan for ammonia emissions from the dairy industry. The government of the Netherlands has proposed a 50 percent reduction of nitrogen emissions by 2030. Agriculture is responsible for the largest share of nitrogen emissions in the Netherlands, much of it from manure produced by the country’s estimated 1.6 million cows, according to the New York Times.
The proposal would require farmers to reduce their herds. If farmers can’t meet those reductions they may be forced to close. There will be some government funding to help farmers implement more-sustainable practices but some Dutch farmers foresee a dark future. The number of dairy farms in the Netherlands is expected to decline by 33 percent by 2030, according to a study conducted by Wageningen Economic Research and commissioned by the FrieslandCampina dairy cooperative. The projected decline is attributed in part to farmers retiring and having no successors, as well as insufficient profitability.
The study did indicate that if the country’s herd size declines to about 1.48 million head and the industry stays within phosphate- and nitrogen-excretion-level limits, the dairy industry could achieve climate-agreement goals. But the study also stated that “additional measures seem necessary to achieve targets with respect to ammonia emissions.”
Environmental concerns also could open opportunities. The Lugtenberg farm is a member of FrieslandCampina, which is working to meet the sustainability demands of the government and consumers. The cooperative has set basic sustainability and grazing requirements for all its farmer-members; it monitors progress through milk-testing and physical farm audits.
For farmer-members willing to take further steps to make their farms even more sustainable, the cooperative recently updated its sustainability program. It proposes to reward dairy farmers based on results achieved in the area of climate-related indicators. Farmers in that “Plant Proof” program can earn as much as 4.50 euros per 100 kilograms of milk – about US$2.10 per 100 pounds – depending on the improvement in greenhouse-gas emissions, Lugtenberg said.
Program offers multi-faceted information
To help students navigate an uncertain future, the Aeres University program also focuses on the diversity of entrepreneurship. Lugtenberg said she’s learning what else she could do as an entrepreneur if she needed to diversify or find other work. When she returns to the Netherlands from Wisconsin, she’ll be serving as an intern for an accounting firm.
The exchange program also is helping her learn how to better communicate with her parents and brothers about what they would want – and need – from a farm-succession plan.
“I’m learning about a five-year plan and what to do before, during and after transition,” she said. “It’s good to start the conversation.”
The exchange program has enabled her the opportunity to visit some Wisconsin dairy farms. There are many similarities between Dutch farms and Wisconsin farms – such as 100- to 200-cow herds and family-owned operations. But she’s also noted differences, she said.
“I thought there’d be more grazing here,” she said. “I’ve also seen more tiestalls.”
Most Dutch farms use freestall barns. Tiestalls are banned in the Netherlands because of public discussions regarding animal welfare.
She’s also visited Wisconsin farms that use lagoons to manage manure. Dutch farmers tend to use more slatted floors and manure pits. Open lagoons aren’t allowed in the country because of ammonia emissions and odor.
“We need to be more space-conscious,” she said.
Jeroen Nolles is the head of livestock and entrepreneurship at Aeres University. In addition to a partnership with UW-River Falls, he said Aeres University has exchange programs with universities in France, Portugal, Sweden, Finland and Germany.
Kirsten Clark, who earned in 2021 a degree from UW-River Falls, studied in the Netherlands from August 2019 to January 2020. She was raised on a dairy farm – Schairer Farms near Birnamwood, Wisconsin. The farm has about 1,300 milking cows.
“While it was a challenge being far away from home, I really grew as an individual,” Clark said. “Seeing the similarities and differences opened my eyes to the dairy industry and made me interested in learning more. That trip also made me believe in myself and gave me the confidence to attend graduate school studying dairy nutrition.”
She’s currently a graduate student at The Ohio State University.
Dairy farms are smaller in the Netherlands than the United States, Clark said. Due to regulations, the Dutch dairy industry focuses heavily on environmental sustainability. And because of the country’s small size it’s challenging for the agricultural sector to grow. That includes dairy farms.
“In Wisconsin we continue to see the number of farms decline but the number of cows remains unchanged,” she said. “Because Dutch farmers can’t expand their farms they focus on efficiency and innovative technology.”
Steve Kelm, a professor of animal and food science at UW-River Falls, said the exchange program isn’t exclusive to dairy science. In December 2021 the UW-System Board of Regents approved a new undergraduate program in international food-operations management at UW-River Falls. It’s a dual-degree program in which UW-River Falls is partnering with Aeres University.
Dale Gallenberg, the recently retired dean of the UW-College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Sciences at River Falls, said the program will create opportunities for students who will receive degrees from both UW-River Falls and Aeres University.
UW-River Falls students will spend the full third year of the four-year program in the Netherlands. Aeres University students will spend the full second year of the program in Wisconsin. The program is expected to provide students with experience in food-processing technology and operations management from both international-production and marketing perspectives. The program includes internship, work placement and independent study courses.