FrieslandCampina reaches out to young farmers in the Netherlands.
By: Chen Rui
Every day at 4 am, Coen Wantenaar wakes up to prepare food for his cows.
The 38-year-old and his wife, Marieke, run one of the 14,000 farms of FrieslandCampina, a dairy cooperative in the Netherlands.
Their farm was started in 1939 with 15 hectares of land with 25 dairy cows, 200 pigs and 2,000 chickens.
Coen has since expanded the family farm to 74 hectares.
Among the 153 cows Coen now cares for, he admits 9-year-old Spotty is his favorite. «From the day she was born, she was always looking for me, and she still does that,» said Coen.
Spotty can even be spotted in Coen and Marieke’s wedding photo – their ceremony was held in the meadow behind the farm.
«I’ve been working at the farm my whole life. And I just liked working with the cows. When I was 24, I went to New Zealand to get experiences elsewhere, and that’s when I realized I really wanted to become a farmer and I really wanted to do it here as well because we have the whole farm,» said Coen.
«At 26, I became part of the farm and I became a member of FrieslandCampina. During the past 12 years, I was working at the farm. I was building my income in the farm as well to pay for my food and the rest of the income was put into the farm, so I would build up my capital.»
«Our job is to keep these animals happy,» he said.
All feeding is automated at the farm, Coen only has to get a helping hand one day out of a week. The automated system picks up and distributes fresh feed eight times daily, requiring only 20 minutes a day of prep time. The system is also capable of milking all of Coen’s cows twice a day and it takes about 3 hours.
However, Coen prefers to tend to his cows personally.
«Milking is a very important part of the daily management,» he said. «The cows have their own routine. If something is different with the routine, maybe there’s something wrong with the cows. For example maybe the cow is sick.»
FrieslandCampina developed FOQUS Planet system (focus with a Q for «quality») to help member farmers with their daily management. The system tracks the farmers’ work and important data about the cows.
«For example if a cow is sick, then in the future, the production of the cow is not as good as we expect it to be, so we can look back at why that would be,» said Coen. «It’s important for us, but also for the government. For example, they need to know how many cows there are, so we need to register all the animals.»
It’s important for FrieslandCampina, too: if there’s something wrong with the milk, farmers can trace the problem to its origin.
FrieslandCampina provides log-ons for all member farmers to access and track their information. Data is uploaded to the servers within hours after milk delivery. Milk sample analysis is posted within a day, enabling farmers to check their milk’s nutritional content and quality rating.
Keep the cows healthy
Similar to humans, cows have age-specific diets. Calves are first weaned by their mothers before being introduced to artificial milk and then a diet of straw and concentrated feed.
Advisors help the farmers with that. In September, farmers store silage for winter season. Feed advisors then analyze samples to learn the nutritional value of the feed and can help better balance the cows’ diets.
Every two weeks, a veterinarian gives Coen’s cows and calves a routine check-up.
«What we are trying to do every day is keep everything as clean as possible. It’s important for the quality of the milk of course and also the life quality of the cows,» said Coen. «The cleaner the environment is, the healthier the life they have.»
Despite his positive outlook, Coen is uncertain as to whether the family farm will be passed down to a fourth generation. «My eldest daughter said she wanted to become a veterinarian. She is five years old, so she doesn’t really know yet,» he said. «Now she wants to be a princess.»
Coen’s concerns reflect a greater trend in the Netherlands. A significant number of young people are not taking over their parents’ farms. As a result, the number of small farms is decreasing.
But for now, Coen is satisfied with life on the farm.
«My wife thinks we should take vacations a little bit more often. I disagree. I’m happy in my daily job,» said Coen. «If you enjoy your job, then it doesn’t matter if you are busy,» he added.
Atze Schaap, Director of Dairy Development of FrieslandCampina, was born on a farm. He later studied animal husbandry and animal sciences. Schaap likens the FrieslandCampina cooperative to a society for entrepreneurs.
«Farmers come together to learn from each other … and constantly improve their products,» said Schaap.
Founded in 1871, FrieslandCampina has a history of more than 140 years in cooperative dairy processing. Their dairy co-ops started around 1870 alongside the advent of the steam engine, which had been enabling large farms to get more work done in less time.
Small farms that couldn’t afford a steam engine individually decided to team up and invest in shared labor-saving equipment. Their co-op efforts extended to sales and distribution. Soon, there were small co-ops in almost every village in the Netherlands.
Schaap said they are attracting more youth to the dairy industry with outreach programs and subsidized loans.
«The idea is to get them interested in the co-op so you also show them the power of the co-op,» said Schaap.
Member farmers’ income from selling raw milk increased by 24.1 percent to 2.1 billion euros, according to Frieslan Campina’s 2017 Q2 report.
Roelof Joosten, CEO of the company, said, «If you look at the farms in the Netherlands and farms in China, the most important thing you have in the Netherlands is that there is a long tradition on the family farm, a lot of passion and love for the animals, and long-term continuity.»
In 2017, FrieslandCampina launched their «Fast Forward» program to make the organization more flexible and agile to deal with challenges of a rapidly changing world – China in particular.
«China has such a big impact on dairy industry, so we need to move by «China speed».
«I must compliment the Chinese government for implementing strict regulatory laws and making bold decisions in order to promote the industry’s healthy development of baby formula in the country,» said Joosten.
«We are pleased to be one of the first companies to pass the new regulations in China, and I think that will definitely help China in order to become a world leader in developing healthy foods under the strictest regulatory conditions. And we would like to be part of that,» he said.