Switch to organic dairy farming would help nature reserves: research

Dairy farming is a major polluter Photo: N. van der Pas
Photo: N. van der Pas

A switch to organic dairy farming around the nature reserves could significantly reduce damage done to the areas by nitrogen released by cow dung, research by Wageningen University & Research on behalf of organic farmers’ association Biohuis has shown.

Intensive animal farming near Natura 2000 areas was banned in 2002. However, 800 farms still remain in the periphery of these protected areas, some of which are particularly damaging to the environment.

Researchers looked at 34 organic farms to see how organic farming practices compared with those of large-scale factory farms. They found that cows at organic farms produced 22% less nitrogen in their manure, while the emission volume per hectare was 53% lower.

The reasons organic farming is less polluting, researchers said, is that farms generally have fewer cows and do not use fertiliser. Organic cows are also put out to pasture more often and are not given concentrates to the same extent, which also limits emissions.

While organic dairy farms would make a good protective buffer against nitrogen around the nature reserves, this does not hold true for organic chicken and pig farms, the research showed.

Despite the good it would do, not many dairy farmers are likely to make the switch, researcher Gerard Migchels said. ‘The organic sector is currently relatively small,’ he said. ‘Growth is only possible if there is enough market demand. That would make it possible to come to a realistic price for organic milk.’

In 2019 Some 40,000 cows in the Netherlands were farmed organically, accounting for just 1% of the Dutch herd of 3.8 million.

According to a government report 46% of nitrogen compound pollution around nature reserves is down to agriculture, to which dairy farming contributes 60%. The new law on nitrogen emissions aims to reduce pollution by 40% by 2025 and 74% by 2035.

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