Grass Routes Dutch Experience June 12th to June 15th. By Celia Dippenbroek
From Amsterdam we headed North over the Afsluit Dyke towards Groningen. It soon became apparrent to us the lack of grazing cows and that one car in our party would be known as 'The naughty (lost) boys!'.
We stayed at a traditional farmhouse in Nieuwolda and visited four farmers all belonging to the same discussion group in that area. Their Brilliant English led to excellent discussions at every farm, climaxing with members from both groups meeting at the final farm for a lovely summer's evening of grass, coffee, beer and non stop talking.
Trying to understand why the dutch don't graze more came down to MEASURING....!!
Nitrogen rules mean that a farm needs to nutrient balance, slurry is sampled prior to spreading and milk ureas are used in the calculations. Any surplus FYM had to be exported to someone with a deficit at a cost of 20 euros / m3. The dutch believed grazing grass was the most difficult thing to measure and too much clover a problem to urea levels (our consultants had much to say about this!). However with five cuts of silage a year plus grazing they grew grass we would be proud of and were still able to acheive 15000l / ha.
After enjoying the hospitality of the North we travelled to the experimental farms at Waiboerhoeve, Lelystad.
On the low cost farm they had to work with Montbeliards (680kgs) averaging 7800l on 36 ha, acheiving 13000l / ha. Labour costs an issue at £15.00 / hour, set stocking was chosen with sixty cows put into a 15 ha field to last them until August. Michael de Haan showed us around and in true discussion group style we put over some of our issues.
The fully automated farm was a real eye opener, robotic milker, robotic feeding and for christmas lists everywhere 'dungbot' slowly quietly moving through the cows scraping shit....!!
"Dungbot" Every farm should have one
Robot bringing feed to the cows, not a person to be seen
On the final day we visited Erik Ormel near Arnhem who farmed organically also following Rudolf Steiner's biodynamic methods. We were blessed with the sight of a herd of grazing jerseys, horns intact (one of many rules required) paddocks were set up and he wanted to graze New Zealand style but again the knowledge on how to measure was not availiable, we suggested his beagle dog would make an excellent device as his tail sped through the grass.
Four hot and sunny days concluded that with milk quota at £1.40 / litre (going in 2015), land at £15,000 / ha, the young Dutch farmers we met were still quietly confident about their future. Having a strong influence on their bank and what happens to their milk guaranteed plenty of money and a firm milk price, currently 22ppl.