Agrifirm CEO: ‘Do not buy livestock with the blunt ax’

Agrifirm is not fleeing from future developments. On the contrary, CEO Dick Hordijk sees plenty of opportunities for livestock farming and its purchasing and sales cooperative, even in the event of a decline in livestock numbers and a protein shift. He only hopes that the sector and his company will have time to make a turnaround.

Agrifirm’s CEO, Dick Hordijk, thinks it’s absurd: Politicians and organizations are fully committed to shrinking livestock, forcibly acquiring livestock farmers and reducing agricultural production in the Netherlands. ‘The approach should be that we solve challenges such as animal welfare, climate and the environment, while preserving production,’ he believes.


The pig fits seamlessly into a new circular food chain

Dick Hordijk, Agrifirm CEO

‘Take nitrogen. Measure first better and more reliably. In any case, there is still so much to invent in the chain to reduce emissions. Let’s start there before we buy out with the blunt ax. In the end, you will see for yourself how many animals, onion growers, livestock farmers and field farmers we have left. ‘

What does it mean for Agrifirm if the livestock shrinks?

‘As a company, we are very healthy. We work all over the world. The domestic animals stay there, although from a European perspective we must focus on reducing the CO2 footprint. But other than that, we were founded as a cooperative to serve the members in the best possible way, so as not to keep the factories running at all costs. We are not tied to a specific production, but must make what suits the members’ demand. It is therefore more important what all these social changes mean for the Dutch farmer. ‘

What does this mean for the farmer?

‘How do I maintain my revenue model? Over the last fifty years, we as an agricultural sector have begun to work more and more efficiently. We have the most efficient agriculture in the world globally. One would think: then the money sprays against the foot panels. But that is not true. Due to the purchasing power of the retail trade, competition between farmers and price developments in the world market, farmers’ incomes have been cut further. This efficiency improvement was therefore crucial to the survival of this price war.

“Farmers have had to work hard for fifty years to not get worse. Now the government and society are coming up with additional demands that are attacking that efficiency model again. It is met with resistance. Farmers have no resistance to new developments. They do not think it’s nonsense. We stand by our farmers and try to help them with these issues. ‘

How?

‘Very different. Take the protein transition. The world population is growing, there is economic growth and more food is needed. Until now, it has meant a shift in consumption from vegetable to animal protein. In Europe, we are now seeing an opposite movement. The question of whether you should grow plants to feed animals will eventually become a global issue. We need to look at future revenue models for growing vegetable proteins on our land for human consumption and good alternatives to animal feed.

“We also see a huge market for the valorisation of vegetable by-products. For animals and for humans. People can eat things that we now feed to animals. Think of a beer bostel sausage roll. Or products made from beet leaves or corn leaves. We explore these kinds of innovations with other parties in the chain.

“Animals, on the other hand, can also eat things that humans cannot ingest. There is a world to be gained by fermenting waste streams so that they become suitable for animal feed. We are investing significant money in basic research and development that is still a long way off. Even if an income model is only created in five to ten years’.

For the time being, we are still addicted to soy. Can we get rid of it?

»Soy is mega efficient, cheap and will always play a role. We become sustainable. To come in. We make the current portfolios more sustainable and look at topics such as deforestation and child labor. We are investigating whether we can grow soy closer to home or even in our own country. We do this together with parties in the chain. Specifically, we work on deforestation-free cattle feed for FrieslandCampina’s member milk producers.

‘We look further ahead in the long run. Against a larger proportion of other raw materials in animal feed. We are experimenting with a significantly different way of feeding pigs with by-products from other parts of Europe. It is better for the climate. But is it also good for the animal? And does the meat still taste good? We want to be at the forefront with that kind of pilots. To us, the pig is the animal of the future that fits seamlessly into a circular food chain. ‘

How realistic are all these plans?

‘I can not predict the future. This type of research takes time and requires good cooperation between government and chain parties. And also financial resources and time from the government. At least if you want to learn and at the same time want to ensure that a business model is created for the farmers. It does not help if government and social organizations force development. We also do not stop driving today because it is bad for the environment. ‘

Is there support for all these ambitions among the members?

‘Yes. We have a positive but critical member council. It’s cool to talk to members about solutions if you also provide insight into the impact on the farmer. In the end, everyone wants a lively world back for their grandchildren. But we must continue to distinguish fact from fiction. Then I return to the reliable data. But I also see something tilting in this area. If society becomes more aware of the important role of the farmer, cooperation on the food chain of the future can develop rapidly. ‘

Agrifirm wants to buy carbon certificates from its own members

Agrifirm starts an experiment with CO2 credits. It is the intention that the cooperative will eventually buy it from members. “Like other companies, we now buy carbon certificates elsewhere to compensate for emissions from our factories,” says CEO Dick Hordijk. ‘But how nice it would be if we started rewarding our own members for it.’ Agrifirm is now looking at the effects of tillage with a group of members. Satellites record earthworks and soil samples are taken. Based on this, a model will be developed that shows that sufficient carbon has been absorbed into the soil. ‘Before it comes to a negotiable certificate, we must reach an agreement with the government,’ says Hordijk. To this end, we work with other parties such as the National Carbon Market Foundation. After all, it is important that the system is scientifically watertight. ‘

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