FrieslandCampina explores efforts to achieve sustainable circular agriculture

By Natasha Spencer

- Last updated on GMT

© Getty Images / naumoid
© Getty Images / naumoid

Related tags: Sustainability, Fertilizer, Dairy

Replacing traditional fertilizer use with animal manure-based options is so important for agriculture and nutrition around the world, including Latin America’s dairy farms, says FrieslandCampina.

As FrieslandCampina highlights the importance of the European Joint Research Center’s (JRC) two-year SafeManure study, increasing attention turns to how the circular economy can become more sustainable by turning waste into raw materials.

Producing agricultural commodities with minimal external reliance, utilizing nutrients appropriately to close the nutrient loop, reducing the negative impact on the environment and simultaneously increasing the emphasis on the value of AgFood waste are key priorities in Europe, for instance.

SafeManure study: The impact on nutrition

The JRC SafeManure study was first conceptualized to define the criteria that would allow certain nitrogen fertilizers that are either wholly or partly derived from manure to be not treated as ‘processed manure’ under the Nitrates Directive.

Analyzing and conducting comparative testing of different fertilizers recovered from nutrients, the study covers raw manure, solid/liquid fractions, digestate, reverse osmosis/mineral concentrates and nitrogen salts recovered from stripping), the European Sustainable Phosphorus Platform stated.

Discussing the results of the JRC study, FrieslandCampina states that the research supports recycled fertilizer products from animal manure replacing traditional fertilizer to reduce CO ₂ and ammonia emissions. Operating in Brazil, the dairy company states that using animal manure-based fertilizer techniques can reduce farm CO ₂ emissions by 3-20% and ammonia emissions by between 40-45%.

Commenting on why the results of the research are so vital for the agricultural and nutrition industries, Ynte de Vries, Manager Farm Energy at FrieslandCampina, explained:  “Nutritious, healthy food products start with healthy livestock, a good farmer income, anda healthy soil. For maintaining good soil health and crop yield, application of the rightamount of manure and minerals is essential.”

Consumer demands and market trends are driving the need to replace traditional fertilizer. Namely, calls for “healthy, safe and tasty foods, produced in a sustainable way,” ​said de Vries.

To make this a reality, “final approval of new legislation by the European Union”,​ is required. “With the results of the JRC study being so positive, this is expected to happen next year,” ​added de Vries.

Looking at the positive impact this is expected to have on the nutritional, ingredients and functional food spaces, de Vries highlights that “the CO2 footprint of the food products will decrease” ​yet all other parameters such as quality and taste will “remain unchanged”.

Traditional to manure fertilizer in Latin America too?

Speaking on whether the results of the SafeManure study in Europe can be extrapolated to Latin American marketplaces, de Vries stated: “In this stadium, it is a bit early to say, but the wider introduction of manure refinery in the Netherlands could lead to the availability of natural manure products for LATAM soil.”

However, when it comes to replacing traditional fertilizers with recycled counterparts in Latin America, “the mineral concentrate can be exported, and moreover, other natural manure products rich in organic matter and phosphate can be exported and used for soil optimization in LATAM”,​ de Vries noted.

“With such products, even poor soils could be restored for a longer term to produce rich harvests. Also, the technique itself could be implemented in LATAM on dairy farms,”​ confirmed de Vries.

Future of fertilizers

Examples of fertilizers recycled from manure include ammonium salts and mineral concentrates. FrieslandCampina explains that the study sets out criteria that these fertilizers recycled from manure must adhere to so they can be applied above 170 kg of animal nitrogen per hectare per year.

Ammonium salts from 'stripping scrubbing plants' and mineral concentrates from reverse osmosis show high potential as future traditional fertilizer replacements, the company puts forward. 

Getting ready for the marketplace: What’s needed?

At present, nutrient recovery techniques are relatively expensive and more research is urged by companies such as FrieslandCampina to make these techniques affordable. Also, the products from 'nutrient recovery' are not yet recognized as fertilizer according to the European Nitrate Directive. As a result, the techniques for converting animal manure into fertilizer are not yet widely used.

For dairy farmers who own their land and maintain it for generations, “soil health is essential to them and they specialize in the optimization of soil health”​, added de Vries.

Until now, in the Netherlands and Belgium, dairy farmers have been allowed to apply natural manure for soil fertilization, “but the only way to achieve an optimal ratio of minerals has been the additional use of chemical fertilizer, which has a large ​ CO ₂ footprint and is costly”​, emphasized de Vries.

“At the same time, the farmers have to pay for the discharge of a part of their own cow’s natural manure, because it doesn’t have the right mineral balance and stability.”

To progress circular agriculture, FrieslandCampina states that “the SafeManure project shows that there are indeed products that have the potential to obtain an 'end-of-manure' status in the future”.

Next steps: The importance of supportive legislation

Around the world, companies are now prioritizing sustainability to create circular agriculture, gearing their efforts towards strategic partnerships and creating a sustainable food chain. Programs ranging from healthy products and renewable energy to farmer income and animal health and welfare, along with soil health and farmer earnings are important elements in these sustainability programs.

In working together and on their respective innovation initiatives; FrieslandCampina on green energy from manure extraction, Jumpstart, and Danone Belgium on manure management model, Wings, the companies are in close cooperation with dairy farmers.

FrieslandCampina, for example, has tested a number of techniques to separate natural cow manure into different fractions, to enable farmers to optimize soil health based on his own cow’s natural manure.

Sharing insights on what these findings indicate, de Vries stated: “Technically, we’ve shown that it works; now the last hurdle to take for rollout is European legislation. The study performed by the JRC is a key step towards new legislation that enables farmers to use their natural minerals instead of chemical fertilizers.”

For FrieslandCampina and Danone, their next focus will be on the rollout of the techniques with its farmers and sustainability in its dairy chain. The duo will develop plans for the further rollout of renewable energy and reduction of the  CO ₂  footprint, improvement of circularity, and fostering of biodiversity.

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